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Nearly six in ten Arizona students who took the state’s AzMerit standardized test this year failed both the math and reading categories. 

While statewide scores showed small improvements over last year, only 42% of students passed the math and english tests in 2019. 

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman told AZ Family that scores broadly improved in 2019. “I am also pleased to announce that our students have improved in 13 of the 22 grade-level and test categories. While assessment scores can always be increased, I would like to extend my congratulations to all of our educators and students for their improvement,” Hoffman said.

Despite the overall improvement in pass rate, there were some concerning trends in the results, too. 

Seventh, eighth, and ninth grade students passed the English Language Arts test at lower rates than in 2018 and students in higher grades had substantially lower pass rates than students in lower grades. Only 34% of 10th graders and 33% of 11th graders passed the English test, compared to more than 50% of fourth and fifth graders. 

A similar trend was evident in math, where third graders were the only cohort to have more than a 50% pass rate. 

The Arizona Republic reported that because passing the test is not a requirement to graduate high school, education officials have struggled to properly incentivize students to do well on the tests.

While students may not care very much, the tests have been critical for schools, because how students do on the test have determined how much additional funding schools get under Arizona’s results-based funding program, which provides one-year bonus payments to schools that perform well. 

In 2018, schools whose AzMerit scores ranked in the top 10% statewide were rewarded with extra funding by the state.

That will change slightly in the future, as extra funding will now be based on the Arizona Department of Education’s A-F letter grade system, which is largely determined by how students scored on AzMerit, but also takes graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and college readiness programs into account, among other things.

The state expanded its results-based funding program for 2020 by an additional $30 million, and schools that receive A or B letter grades will now receive a total of $70 million from the state.

Advocates of the program say it helps successful schools, especially those in high-poverty areas, but the program is opposed by many educators who say it disproportionately benefits wealthier schools and schools that are already doing well, effectively widening the gap between the haves and have nots.

For those interested in digging deeper, Arizona’s school report cards can be found here and AzMerit results can be accessed here.