PHOENIX (April 10, 2019) – Below is a statement from A for Arizona Executive Director Emily Anne Gullickson on the U.S. Department of Education’s letter denying Arizona’s waiver for flexibility in statewide high school assessments.

“The heart of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act law, which the late Arizona Senator John McCain fought to pass in December 2015, is to provide states more flexibility and ability to innovate within K-12 education and to limit the USDOE’s role under ESSA to one that provides guidance and support for states.

“Although Arizona’s “Menu of Assessments” law has been on the books since 2016, two weeks ago, the USDOE denied Arizona’s waiver from the prescriptive federal regulations on testing. We believe this runs counter to the larger intent of ESSA to put states back in the driver’s seat of K-12 policy. The USDOE would be wise to learn from the state that’s making some of the greatest academic gains on NAEP in the country and embracing assessment choice.

“Furthermore, we are baffled by USDOE’s decision to reject Arizona’s existing AzMERIT End-of-Course exams, especially given the inclusion of these examinations in our approved ESSA state plan in the spring of 2017. While USDOE’s letter doesn’t prohibit these exams, apparently, they believe we can only use these tests for federal accountability if all students take the exact same courses every year in every high school across Arizona. This essentially takes control away from teachers, prohibits the ability for accelerated Arizona students to be assessed in middle school, and puts high school education into the hands of the federal government. 

“This push for a one-size-fits-all high school testing regime runs counter to Arizona’s robust school choice environment and demand from the field and families. At A for Arizona, we have learned from the state’s highest performing, high poverty school principals and system leaders that they want the opportunity to choose the test that best aligns with the material taught in their classrooms and that has relevance for students and parents based on course sequencing, rigor, and a pathway to college. 

“We appreciate the quick work by the Arizona Department of Education and the State Board of Education to develop a plan to secure Arizona’s Title I funding. We look forward to working alongside Arizona’s policymakers to ensure we have a solution that works for Arizona and to preserve Menu, at least in state policy, for schools opting up to rigorous college entrance exams for their students.”

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About A for Arizona
A for Arizona exists to rapidly expand the number of low-income students in the highest quality schools. Leaning on the collective wisdom of Arizona’s best public district, magnet and charter school leaders, we create bold and innovate policy recommendations based on direct feedback from our school leaders and teachers. We are a self-contained initiative within the Arizona Chamber Foundation in partnership with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.