AIMS break for seniors may become permanent
Arizona Daily Star
March 5, 2008


By Daniel Scarpinato
PHOENIX Less than three months before graduation, state lawmakers are considering coming to the rescue of high school seniors who have yet to earn a passing grade on the required AIMS test.
State Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, is seeking to make permanent a formula passed in 2005 that inflates AIMS scores if a student has taken the exam each time it was offered, has completed and passed all coursework and has taken part in tutoring offered at school. So far, he's finding bipartisan support for the move.
If legislators approve the emergency plan, students who fail the math, reading or writing portions of the sit-down test this year could earn extra points for A's, B's and C's in their high school classes.
The move would put off indefinitely the proposition of AIMS becoming the high-stakes exam its crafters envisioned more than a debate ago.
Schapira's plan extends what has been in effect for two years. As an emergency measure, he's hoping it will pass in time to give high school seniors some certainty. Even if it doesn't pass by May but eventually does become law, the bill includes retroactive language.
The so-called grade-augmentation formula was passed and signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2005, but it had a sunset provision that expired this January.
Last year, 3,425 Arizona seniors graduated thanks to the formula. The year before 2,855 students benefited.
"The idea was, hopefully, we could wean students off this," Schapira said. "The intent was the augmentation would wane."
But Schapira says with more than 3,000 student possibly missing out on a diploma this year because of AIMS, an extension is necessary.
"All of your 13 years of course work are essentially meaningless because you move on without a high school diploma," he said. "You can imagine the anxiety involved."
Support for extending the augmentation is the latest in what has been a long and politically bumpy road for the AIMS test, proposed in the '90s as a way to better prepare students for college and measure school performance.
Along the way the test was delayed and retooled considerably to the point were some are now questioning whether it should even still exist.
Technically, even if students fail the test and don't receive diplomas, they can still go on to a four-year university.
The debate over the validity of the test was on display Tuesday morning as Republicans debated Schapira's bill during a caucus meeting.
"If we're going to do this, we really ought to just get rid of AIMS," said Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert. But Rep. Andy Biggs, also R-Gilbert, said the bill doesn't water the test down more than it already is.
"The reality is, AIMS is already gutted with or without this bill because it's been politicized," Biggs said. "It's just symbolic."
The creator of the original AIMS augmentation wouldn't say in an interview where he stands but indicated he remains critical of the test.
"I still feel the same about the AIMS test," said Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, the Senate majority leader. "I had concerns about the AIMS test. I had concerns about the content. I just wish that there were more people who were concerned about it."
One person who is strongly opposed to scrapping the test or extending the grade augmentation is Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction.
Horne said the test is necessary to demand high standards, even as fellow Republicans criticized him Tuesday for contributing to efforts to soften it.
"I think we put too little pressure on our kids, not too much," Horne said. "I think kids in other countries that we're competing with think of their youth as a time to learn and prepare for adulthood, whereas a lot of American kids think of their youth as a time to enjoy their youth."