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Students prep for merit tests

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Since last year, students across the state have taken the AZ Merit standardized tests, which replaced the previous AIMS test.

Beginning March 27, the window officially opened for school districts to begin measuring student proficiency via the test. The AZ Merit has limited scope, assessing English Language Arts and Mathematics, and unlike AIMS is not a requirement for grade-level graduation.

Verde Valley and Sedona school districts have until Thursday, May 4, to conduct the computerized test. Kindergartners through second-graders are exempt.

According to Jennifer Hernandez, Northern Arizona Community Mobilizer for Expect More AZ, regardless of the lower stakes the AZ Merit can cause a lot of stress — particularly for parents, who have become accustomed to standardized testing as a way to gauge their kids’ success.

“When we talk to parents, there’s always that reminder that they shouldn’t stress out about the test,” Hernandez said. “Kids pick up on that.

“It’s not that the tests aren’t important, but as parents we always want to reinforce that our kids are not perfect .... It’s a benchmark along students’ educational timeline.”

Hernandez added that parents and older students should look at the AZ Merit as a way to identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities to challenge growing intellects. Though the test does not have the power to hold a student back or accelerate her learning, it can be used as a diagnostic tool.

“After seeing their student’s results, parents may discover that their child is demonstrating certain strengths and may want to have a discussion with the school and the teacher about advanced coursework and other ways to support their student’s success,” Hernandez said.

“Just like when you go to the doctor once a year, it’s a snapshot of your health. The test gives a snapshot of how a student is doing.”

The AZ Merit often doesn’t stand alone, however. According to Tricia Winters, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, COCSD retains portions of the AIMS to test science proficiency.

Knowing ahead of time what is being tested and talking with a child’s teacher is “the best advice we can give any parent .... Any time you can sit down and have a chat with your child’s teacher, the teacher loves that. Your a team and you want the best outcome for kids.”

Hernandez advised that parents take time to determine when and what is being tested during the month of April and prepare.

“Not just the night before, but leading up to the test, insure your child is getting enough sleep,” Hernandez said. “The sooner you can start that adjusting, the better. Having a little bit of regularity leading up to important days in your life is important.”

Most importantly, Hernnadez said that parents need to “cheerlead your kids along and support them with affirmations.”

For more information on the AZ Merit and to access resources, including sample tests, visit http://azmeritportal.org.

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