AIMS break for special-ed
 Feb. 10, 2005
 By Howard Fischer
PHOENIX - Arizona schools are free to exempt their special-education students from having to pass the AIMS test to graduate, Attorney General Terry Goddard said Wednesday.
Goddard, in a formal legal opinion, said Arizona law and the rules of the state Board of Education give local school boards wide latitude to decide the course study and graduation requirements of students in special-education programs.
The move is a victory for parents of the estimated 7,000 high school juniors who qualify as special-education students. Fewer than one out of 20 of these students who took the test last year got passing grades on all three sections.
Passing AIMS is a graduation requirement for the more than 63,000 students in the Class of 2006. About 7,000 of these youngsters are classified as special-education students.
Goddard said federal law entitles students with disabilities to a "free, appropriate public education." That includes special programs to meet each student's "unique needs."
To meet those needs, the law requires "individual education programs" for each disabled student.
Goddard said while federal law generally requires all students to take state assessment tests, it does not require that special-education students actually pass the test to graduate.
"Part of providing an individualized education includes adopting an appropriate exit strategy for each student," Goddard wrote. "Whether a student's exit strategy involves passing the state's exit exam is a decision for that student's IEP Team."
State School Superintendent Tom Horne said he does not see Goddard's decision as a free pass for any student in a special-education program.
"There are a lot of special-education kids who can pass AIMS," he said, such as youngsters with attention-deficit disorder.
Goddard's opinion appears to leave some leeway to help special-education students. He pointed out that federal regulations require schools to provide necessary accommodations for students taking tests to allow for their disabilities.