Phoenix Forum: Our Classrooms, Our Workforce, Our Future

The Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s Phoenix Forum event this afternoon featured keynote speaker Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The luncheon, the product of a partnership between GPCC, Expect More Arizona and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, focused on the integral role the public education systems plays in Arizona’s economic future.

Petrilli, a national leading education expert, detailed the critical need for higher standards and a corresponding assessment for Arizona students, teachers and business owners.

“We set the standards too low—because we didn’t align the expectations of the public education system with the demands of the real world, we sent false signals for years that all was well, when in fact many students were not on track for success,” said Petrilli. “We lied to kids, to their families and to the taxpayers.”

In the not so distant past, Arizona students were taught according to a set of standards and tested using Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). However, many students who passed the AIMS test and graduated were functionally illiterate. Close to half of the high school graduates who passed AIMS required remediation coursework in college.

“To be effective—to be implemented in the classroom and to boost student achievement—strong standards must be paired with strong tests. But that has not been the case here,” said Petrilli.

According to a Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, The Proficiency Illusion, Arizona’s cut score—the minimum score required to pass the exam—for reading and math was below the national average and below the minimum requirements to be successful in college or in a career.

“According to a recent study, Arizonans could have saved some $81 million in 2007-08 on such remediation. Even young people in Arizona looking to a career in the military run into roadblocks: One in five failed the United States Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery,” Petrilli said.

Arizona’s path to new, rigorous academic standards began nearly a decade ago, in 2006. Governors, school superintendents and business leaders from several states met to discuss the need for increased educational standards for math and English. Groups of experts from around the nation—including teachers from Arizona— developed a draft set of new educational standards.

After a series of six public meetings, Arizona’s State Board of Education adopted this set of standards  in 2010, now called Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.

“When combined with a solid curriculum—which is still the province of local school boards, as it should be—the standards should lead to significantly stronger teaching and learning in the classroom,” Petrilli said.

For the past four years, Arizona schools and teachers have been implementing and teaching to the new standards, while the Board of Education prepares to select an assessment that aligns to the higher academic rigor in Arizona classrooms.

“These new standards and tests are part of a larger effort to give all young people in Arizona a chance to live their dreams—to get a good education, a good job, and enjoy the good life in this beautiful state,” said Petrilli. “And together with similar efforts in other states, it’s part of an effort to make sure that we have an education system worthy of our great country.”

The Chamber invites input from those willing to work with us to create a strong economic foundation for Arizona to ensure our education system develops students with globally competitive skills, so we can create and sustain the jobs our economy desperately needs.

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