Does Arizona face a crisis in academic achievement of students in public schools? The answer depends on which test scores you believe to be credible.
The National Center for Education Statistics administers the nations most respected study of student achievement, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP tests representative samples of students in all 50 states and consistently finds that Arizona students score below the national average across subjects and grade levels.
Recently, the state of Arizona created an alternative source of data. The Arizona Department of Education imbedded a subset of questions from the TerraNova exam into the AIMS to create a Dual Purpose Assessment (DPA).
The DPA provides a startlingly different picture of the performance of Arizona students than does NAEP. For example, on May 4, 2007, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne published a letter in the Arizona Daily Star lauding the performance of Arizonas public schools:
The TerraNova test is designed for comparisons among states. Arizonans can be motivated to strive for the top tier of states, knowing their students test scores are eight percent above the national average, despite being last in resources per student, because of the efforts of Arizona teachers and administrators, and our emphasis on academic rigor in the classroom.
In short, either NAEP or the DPA has a serious credibility issue. The public, parents, and policymakers have a tremendous need for reliable and accurate data concerning public school performance.
The following pages assess this discrepancy through a review of available academic literature on Arizonas DPA and the exams technical reports. The combined evidence strongly supports the notion that Arizonas DPA contains deep flaws, providing an inaccurate view of school performance in Arizona.