Facing a lack of funds, the state has temporarily suspended a program that offered free AIMS tutoring to high school juniors and seniors who have failed one or more portions of the state assessment exam.
Officials are blaming the funding problem on the program's success.
Superintendents, principals and charter-school officials were notified of the Arizona Department of Education's decision to halt the State Tutoring Program beginning next Friday in a memo sent out last week.
The announcement, by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, comes just days before high school students take the writing and reading portions of the AIMS exam. The math portion of the exam will be given in early April.
The move also comes as students continue to struggle with the test, although last year's statewide AIMS scores were slightly better than 2006 scores.
The average scores in math went from 68 percent to 70 percent, while reading went from 68 to 69 percent, and writing went from 72 to 78 percent.
Tutoring was not scheduled to end for the semester until April 25.
State officials hope the tutoring will return sometime in the spring after the Education Department reviews claims for tutoring hours provided from Jan. 7 through next Friday to determine if the program has stayed within its budget. Tutors are paid $40 per hour.
More than 6,400 students across the state used the tutoring program last fall. Last spring, more than 7,000 students sought the help of tutors.
By comparison, when the program first was offered in early 2005 and had $10 million at its disposal, fewer than 700 juniors took advantage of AIMS tutoring, state Associate Superintendent Karen Butterfield said.
That year, less than $800,000 was actually used for AIMS tutoring. Because of that, the funds were returned to the state, and the Legislature set funding at $1.5 million per year.
Now that's not enough.
"We became the victims of our success," Horne said. "We generated the demand, but we don't have the supply."
The Legislature is considering eliminating the funds entirely, too, he said.
In August 2005, Horne credited the program with helping the students who took advantage of the free tutoring. According to a press release issued at the time, 91 percent of those tutored moved up at least one performance level on at least one portion of the AIMS test.
The decision to suspend the tutoring program has upset some school officials and private providers.
"The math AIMS test is coming up. We are stopping service for these kids, and they need it now," said Alisa Cook, president of Principal Tutoring.
The Tucson-based business is one of three private companies approved by the state to offer tutoring. It was providing tutoring in five public schools and also has individual clients.
"This is what these kids need," Cook said. "It concerns me the state is taking this away from the kids that need it the most. Maybe they will continue it, but we don't know."
Cook had just started tutoring programs at Palo Verde and Pueblo magnet high schools.
Her company provides about 200 students with tutoring, but some of them pay for the services if they don't meet the criteria to receive free tutoring from the state.
In addition to juniors and seniors who haven't passed portions of the AIMS test, ninth- and 10th-graders who didn't pass one or more portions during their eighth-grade year also are eligible for free tutoring.
In addition, any student attending an underperforming or failing school as designated by the state's accountability system, Arizona Learns, is eligible for tutoring in reading, writing and mathematics.
Districts are considering what they'll do next.
"I suspect that we will try and figure out how we can pay for it ourselves," Sahuarita Superintendent Jay St. John said. "They want us to hold kids accountable. They need to go to tutoring. They (the state) need to help pay for it."
Still, Nicholas Clement, superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District, said his district isn't overly concerned.
"We have a backup," he said.
Last year, Flowing Wells High School was awarded a five-year, $250,000 grant to fund the Flowing Wells High School Success Initiative, which includes an after-school tutoring program and free access to TestGear, an online PSAT, ACT, SAT and AIMS test-preparation site.
Clement said the high school will refer students to that service.
State officials don't expect AIMS scores to suffer because portions of the exam are in the next few days, but they want the program up and running again.
"We never thought we would get to this point, in all honesty," Butterfield said. "We are hopeful that we will be able to reinstate some kind of tutoring, but it will probably not be at the level we had it at."
To see a copy of a letter from the state school chief's office that outlines the move, go to azstarnet.com/pdf.
● Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at 806-7737 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.