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Legislative committee weighs sweeping changes to school financing system

A legislative committee on Wednesday debated changing the way student success is measured in Arizona schools, which would also change the structure of education funding.

Members of the Joint Legislative Study Committee on Outcome-Based Education Funding came to a general consensus that the current funding system encourages schools to move all students up at the same time regardless of individual ability, which may not be the best method.

“I’m not sure we are doing our students justice,” said Committee Chairman Rep. Chester Crandell, a Heber Republican.

It was also the committee’s perception that Title 15, which governs the state’s education system, can be a hindrance to advanced learners because schools receive a certain amount of money for each student for each grade level they move up. Schools lose money if an advanced student skips a grade, Crandell said. Summer school is not funded, which is another hindrance for students ready and wanting to advance, Crandell said.

Committee member Susan Carlson, executive director of Arizona Business and Education Coalition, labeled Title 15 as “a huge tome of restrictions.”

Members discussed possible standards of which to base education outcome funding, the chief example being the AIMS test. Committee member Stacy Morley, Senate Education Accountability and Reform Committee analyst, expressed concern over attaching money to test performance. “It creates a very toxic environment,” Morley said.

Arizona requires that high school students achieve an AIMS score showing tenth grade competency or better in order to graduate.

The problem is that even those who meet or surpass that standard are many times not cutting it in the business world, Crandell said. “Have we set the bar too low?” he asked.

Since each state has some leeway in implementation of federal curriculum standards, definitions of what is considered grade level competency for reading, math, and other subjects vary, said committee member Vince Yanez, executive director of the Arizona State Board of Education.

To address this variance, a group is developing a set of common requirements called the Common Core State Standards, which would make the grade level competency standards universal across the country, he said.

The committee agreed abstract skills such as communication are necessary for today’s job market and should be implemented in schools. However, committee members were unable to define a feasible method of measuring students’ mastery of these skills, making it difficult to reward educators for successfully teaching them.

The committee’s next meeting is July 27, where it will review the Common Core State Standards and growth patterns of business and industry in Arizona and what they would like the growth patterns to be.

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