Two decades ago, while serving as state Superintendent of Public Instruction, I worked with the State Board of Education and hundreds of teachers to measure student performance against established academic standards. Reason being, parents and teachers need and deserve an accurate measure of how well students understand the subject material taught in school. This helps measure whether students are on track academically and allows educators to adjust classroom instruction as necessary.

With a new statewide achievement test in place, AzMERIT, the Arizona State Board of Education recently unanimously approved rigorous cut scores for the test. Make no mistake; measuring student achievement against standards is only effective if the standards are rigorous. Fortunately for Arizona, the State Board approved new scores that align to national assessments and accurately reflect grade-level proficiency.

At A for Arizona, we have the opportunity to work with the highest performing low-income school leaders in Arizona. In addition to relying on the state test, the majority of these ‘A’ leaders use national assessments to measure how their students really compare academically relative to others. These leaders have made a commitment to every student and parent to help them succeed in challenging college prep programs, as outlined in their mission statements, family contracts, or impact statements. Despite working with the highest-need populations, all scholars in these ‘A’ schools are held to rigorous grade-level expectations.

To monitor these ambitious goals, the ability to compare, both locally and nationally, is critical. Our leaders thrive on the rigor of the new standards and need honest performance data to remain competitive. Thus, the new cut scores help our best leaders have an accurate measurement and honest demonstration of proficiency to know whether their students are genuinely on track.

Even more importantly, the students in all public schools need to be told the truth about where they are at academically and if they are on track for college, careers, or the military. They deserve to hold a meaningful diploma and receive honest reports on how they are performing, even if it is initially painful or hard to admit. Inflated grades and scores do not actually prepare students to be college and career ready. We have a responsibility to help all students be successful, and cannot achieve this without accurate information on what students actually know.

We can be proud that the staff, teacher committees, parents, and ultimately the State Board of Education did not stand for watered down scores. Instead, all parties involved stayed faithful to the goal established in 2010 to give our students higher standards and an honest way of communicating proficiency.

The reality of how many Arizona students lack proficiency in math or reading only supports our work at A for Arizona. Knowing the truth about student learning makes us more effective in our mission to help all students gain access to an ‘A’ school where everyone is held to the highest expectation.