AIMS Test: Good news, bad news
TUSD's scores rise and decline in 2003
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
August 28, 2003
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen
Almost one-third of TUSD schools improved their scores in all three subjects -
reading, writing and math - on the 2003 AIMS standardized test. But students in
some of those schools still did not know enough to master the subjects.
Conversely, the scores at 28 of Tucson Unified School District's 118 schools and
alternative programs declined in all three subjects tested on AIMS.
Other school districts' scores were not available because the Arizona Department
of Education is not releasing the data until Tuesday, although school districts
received the scores Monday.
TUSD briefly posted its scores on its Web site this week but quickly took them
down because of the Education Department's embargo on releasing scores until
Students take the AIMS test each spring. The test is based on what the state
determines students should know at each grade level.
Students in the Class of 2006 - this year's sophomores - must show they know
enough to meet the academic standards in order to earn a high school diploma.
High school students take the tests in 10th grade and can retake those they do
not pass in their junior and senior years.
All but one TUSD high school increased writing scores over last year, and that
was University High - which repeated its perfect 100 percent performance this
Cholla Magnet High School posted gains in all three subject areas over last
year. Despite the improvements, less than half of the students passed the
writing and math tests.
Cholla's highest score was in reading, which went from 47 percent passing the
test last year to 54 percent this year.
That makes sense to Principal Sam Giangardella.
"We concentrated on the areas where kids were seriously weak, and reading was
the big one for us last year," he said.
A shift is also going on with teachers at Cholla from " 'what did I teach today'
" to " 'what did the students learn today' " - because they're not always the
same, Giangardella said.
The strict focus on reading, writing and math has meant Cholla has not expanded
fine arts or other offerings, despite student interest, Giangardella said.
"I might want to expand social studies to include a Native American or
African-American history class that would be good for my school and a good
class for kids, but now the concentration is zeroing in on the academic
standards," he said.
Rincon High improved in writing and math over 2002 scores, using sustained
silent reading and an upfront approach to prepare students for the AIMS test.
Alexandra Phillips did not have to take the tests last year as a ninth-grader
but said her teachers were preparing the students for the tests already.
"I've been talked to in math class about it already, and I was talked to about
it in freshman algebra as well," Phillips said. "They're telling us how
important it is and teaching us what we need to know.
"They're straightforward about what we need to learn for the test. We don't have
Students at Pueblo Magnet High School increased their writing scores by 13
percentage points over last year. Almost 62 percent of the students showed they
knew enough about grammar and writing styles to pass the test, compared with 48
percent of students last year.
All teachers at Pueblo concentrate on writing, even in classes such as physical
education and mariachi, said Principal Richard Carranza.
"It makes the students realize that there is nowhere you will go where you will
not write," Carranza said. "This tells us we're on the right path."
Students in mariachi class don't just work on their music but write regular
reviews of performances and incorporate writing into the class.
"It's even better, because kids are writing about something they love," Carranza
Menlo Park Elementary School, which was labeled "underperforming" last fall by
the State Department of Education, showed big gains in writing and math. The
school is improving slowly but surely, said Principal Patricia McElroy.
Teachers have been seeing anecdotal proof for a while, but now the numbers are
showing progress, she said.
"We've seen things at the school, like when students are waiting in the front
office, they see the books we have there and students are now picking them up
and reading them - that's new," McElroy said.
* Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at