Standardized Final Exams for Arizona Schools Better for the Students or Just Another Measurement for the State?

Written by Patricia Hawke for

Better for the Students or Just Another Measurement for the State?

There is currently a bill in the Arizona state legislature, proposing that the state create standardized final exams for specific core high school courses within the Arizona schools. The bill was introduced by the Senate Education Committee Chairman and has the support of many key educational figures.  

Arizona public schools chief Tom Horne supports the bill, as does several educational researchers. Paul Koehler, director of WestEd (a nonprofit research agency) also lends support, stating that state standardized final exams gives the state and Arizona schools a “broader and more logical profile” of Arizona schools students’ performance.  

Along with high school core courses, art and music also would receive the Arizona schools’ standardized final exams; and grades three, six and seven would receive state-designed final exams in social studies.  

Each district within the Arizona schools could choose to administer only the state final exams or in addition to their own exams.  

The idea of standardized end-of-course exams comes from the Advanced Placement courses that allow Arizona schools’ students to earn college credits while in high school. Other states already successfully use the state standardized final exam system.  New York gives special diplomas to their students who successfully pass the state standardized end-of-course exams. 


Consistency and Accountability

State standardized testing for the Arizona schools is believed to ensure consistency in teaching across the state. The Arizona schools can, at the state level, determine if individual schools are offering the same quality teaching and learning as schools in other areas of the state. Arizona State University professor Thomas Haladyna believes the state-design and mandated final exams will allow the Arizona schools to determine if children are receiving a good education, eliminating the haphazard teaching that occurs in the schools today and instituting a more systematic approach to teaching.


Enough Is Enough

Currently, the teachers or districts design final exams for all coursework. The Mesa school system is the largest district in the Arizona schools. They already use district-wide final exams that are created by district teachers, who meet to design the end-of-course exams. Their testing director Joe O’Reilly voiced concerns that the district will lose the local involvement they currently have with state-mandated and designed final exams. He questions the lose of immediacy that the district now has, where exams are given, graded and returned the next day.  Besides losing more control to the state, O’Reilly cannot understand how a multiple-choice test can measure student performance in music, painting, or in a chemistry lab. 

Arizona schools’ parents already complain to school administrators of the amount of homework their children receive in reading, writing and math classes. They continually question whether the overload of work is to help their children learn or to raise the schools’ test scores on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) exam, securing more funding for the schools. 

Arizona schools parents have a right to be concerned, since the proposed final exams will not be used to determine student promotion to the next grade or whether a child graduates high school or not. The Arizona schools’ standardized state final exams only determine the rating of each school’s performance and will be used along with AIMS test scores and other factors, such as graduation and student attendance rates.