Arizona schools need to keep up with technological advances if they want to participate in “an education transformation that is sweeping across the United States,” Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said Monday in his annual State of Education address to members of the House Education Committee.
“It is not enough to recognize the value of education. It is imperative we also invest in it,” said Huppenthal, a former Republican state legislator who has headed the Department of Education since 2011. “It is critical we develop thoughtful public policy that reflects the best science in education and that we reject less thoughtful fads.”
Last year, Huppenthal focused on pushing for funding to improve the state’s student- data system, saying the outdated system — which he compared to a “cancerous growth” — would hinder efforts to reform schools. Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes about $16.5 million to update the student-data system.
This year, Huppenthal spoke more broadly about several of his department’s initiatives, from accountability to making sure the state smoothly transitions to a new assessment test to replace Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS. An underlying theme was making sure Arizona schools provide students and parents with the technology they need.
“By far, the data system is our most important initiative,” Huppenthal said. “What we’re perceiving, though, is that we have gotten over that hurdle. We’ve convinced everybody. They know how important it is. And we need to start talking about quality in education.”
According to Huppenthal, Arizona schools have generally improved their letter grades since the state moved to an A-through-F system of rating schools and districts in 2011.
Huppenthal, a longtime advocate of school choice, said it’s “a given” that he will continue to support more options for parents. In Arizona, 180,000-plus students attend more than 500 charter schools, and more than 200,000 students attend district schools outside their designated attendance boundaries, he said.
Acknowledging Arizona School Choice Week, Huppenthal used his address to announce a new website by the Education Department, azreportcards.com, where parents can look up academic performance, demographics and more information about any school, district or charter holder in Arizona.
Huppenthal also said Arizona’s impending move to a new statewide assessment is an opportunity “to overcome all the imperfections of the AIMS test” and more accurately measure the abilities of students at the high and low ends.
The Arizona State Board of Education has not yet selected a test to replace AIMS but is expected to do so in the spring.
Huppenthal sits on the board, but he does not oversee it as state schools chief. He said the board will be looking not only at how well a new assessment measures Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, new curriculum standards the state adopted in 2010, but also at how a potential vendor handles customer support and coordinates with school districts.
However, Huppenthal said that the new assessment will not be effective without first making sure district schools have the appropriate equipment, noting that more than 35 percent of Arizona school districts lack the Internet capacity of typical homes in urban areas.
“Even some of our best schools … lack enough bandwidth to be competitive,” Huppenthal said. “We risk losing a competitive advantage for our students if we don’t provide modern testing environments that other states and industries are providing.”
Huppenthal said the Education Department is working with Aaron Sandeen, the state’s chief information officer, to advance a plan to increase the capacity and lower the cost of delivering broadband to Arizona schools.
Finally, Huppenthal touched on multiple initiatives that he said would break “the grip of math and language testing that is narrowing education and limiting the potential of our students.” The Education Department will push this year to improve career and technical education, English Language Learners instruction, statewide literacy, foreign-language immersion and civic engagement, he said.
“Quality in education, you have to make sure you’re going broad,” Huppenthal said. “That’s what I did today. I went pretty broad. But everything that I talked about we feel is critically important.”
Source: Education News