AIMS irregularities prompt action
Arizona Republic
March 28, 2007

PUHSD disciplines 3 teachers, administrator, sends findings to state

Karina Bland

Irregularities in AIMS results aren't all that unusual, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has said. It happens every testing cycle.

Sometimes, a parent or teacher will report something amiss. Other times, people grading the tests will notice identical wording in a number of students' essays or that half a class followed the same pattern in filling out multiple-choice answers.

In 2004, for example, as many as nine Arizona school districts were under scrutiny for irregularities in AIMS and other standardized test scores. For the most part, it was not a case of widespread cheating but unintentional deception. Sometimes, it is as innocent as teachers not understanding proper procedures for administering the test, like allowing students to take the writing portion of AIMS over two days instead of the one allotted.

Still, any unusual spikes or drops in scores tend to create suspicion, and district administrators and state education officials typically work quickly to figure out what happened.

In the Phoenix Union High School District, an investigation into irregularities in AIMS test results last fall has resulted in disciplinary action against three teachers and an administrator. District officials have forwarded their findings to the state Department of Education.

As in many cases like this, district officials believe that the irregularities resulted from an error in judgment, not malicious intent to unfairly influence test results.

On Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and 2, juniors and seniors in Phoenix Union who had not yet passed the AIMS test could retake it. It was during that round of testing that three special-education teachers offered assistance beyond what is allowed by the state testing standards for accommodations to their special-needs students.

Accommodations allowed for special-needs students include assistance such as more time to complete a test or fewer students in a classroom. In some cases, teachers can read the test for students, simplify language, or write essays dictated by students who might not have use of their hands.

The accommodations allowed change from year to year. Craig Pletenik, district spokesman, said that the assistance offered by the teachers in question would have been allowed a few years ago. He would not elaborate.

None of the 30 or so students involved is required to pass AIMS to graduate because of their disabilities, according to their Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, required for all special-education students. Still, they must take it to meet state and federal accountability requirements.

The students were allowed to retake the test.

Pletenik would not say specifically what happened to the teachers and administrator, citing confidentiality in personnel matters. In matters like this, however, it would be typical to receive a written reprimand, short-term administrative leave or something similar.

As a result of the incident, Pletenik said, "We're taking steps to better educate all of our employees when it comes to testing."

Mandatory training sessions were held at each of the district's high schools in February and will be offered again in April.