Emergency bill would emasculate AIMS
Arizona Republic
March 12, 2008


Well over 3,000 high-school seniors are poised to miss out on graduation this spring. It seems a particular circumstance has impeded their ability to enjoy the forthcoming pomp.

They haven't passed the AIMS test.

So, you might ask, what are our leaders going to do about it? I'll give you one guess.
For 12 years, Arizona has been proclaiming rigorous new standards of academic achievement and accountability. It was 1996 when the state decreed that students, starting with the Class of 2001, would have to pass a test to graduate.

By the late 1990s, failure rates on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards were such that entire forests were breathing easier, given the state's diminished need for parchment. So the test was pushed back and dumbed down, and the passing grade was lowered.

But starting with the Class of 2006, the state was firm. No pass, no pomp.

Except that the Legislature enacted a law allowing the Classes of 2006 and 2007 to boost their test scores by earning C's or better in any class, including electives.

But starting with the Class of 2008, the state was firm. No pass, no pomp.

Enter Rep. Dave Schapira, who is riding to the rescue of this year's seniors with an emergency bill that would make the "grade augmentation" program permanent. Under House Bill 2008, students who passed their classes, participated in tutoring and took AIMS all five times it was offered would be given bonus points to inflate their AIMS scores.

Last year, 3,425 seniors got diplomas, thanks to the boost. Schapira says this year even more are in danger of not graduating, a condition he chalks up to test anxiety.

"We're not talking about bottom-of-the-barrel kids," says Schapira, a former high-school teacher. "We're talking about kids who have good grades, who have passed all the classes necessary, who have taken the test every time it's offered, who have done tutoring, and many of them have also been accepted into college."

Expect Schapira's bill to sail through the Legislature, much to the chagrin of the state's head educator. Superintendent Tom Horne doesn't buy the test-anxiety excuse. ("I've never talked to a parent once who had a kid whose test anxiety kept them from passing the driver's license test," he notes.)

Horne says the schools have spent years preparing students for this test in every way possible, from individual study guides tailored to the areas in which students need help, to - until a few weeks ago when the money ran out - free tutoring. "It's clearly a motivation problem," he says. "Students who are motivated to study will pass the AIMS test."

Schapira disagrees and says the test should not stand as a graduation requirement. The stakes are just too high. He knows of one senior who has been accepted to Arizona State University but can't pass the math portion of the AIMS.

"Each time, she walks in there knowing that her high-school graduation, 13 years of coursework, depends on her score on that test," he says. "And that's different than taking a final exam. It's different than taking the SAT or ACT. The anxiety involved in taking the AIMS test is far different than that stuff, and you and I never had to experience it."

And so we come to this, the final emasculation of AIMS - the death of our standards, such as they were. It is apparently too much to ask that an incoming university student be able, after five tries, to eke out a 57 percent on a 10th-grade math test.

Our new plan: Give them a sheepskin and wish them luck.

They'll need it.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts @arizonrepublic.com or 602-444-8635. Read her blog at robertsblog.azcentral.com.