AIMS fixes can become problems
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 12, 2005
By Ted Downing and Paul Karlowicz
Arizona students, teachers and parents are racing toward a precipice. Students currently in their junior year of high school must pass the reading, writing and math portions of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards or AIMS test to graduate in May 2006.
To advocates of high standards, this requirement may sound reasonable. But because of the questionable reliability and validity of the scoring of the AIMS test and inadequate funding to promote high standards and provide remediation for at-risk students, a well-meaning attempt to hold schools and students accountable has turned into bad public policy. Solutions sometimes become problems.
Under the current system, state government sorts students into bad apples and rejected apples, establishing a movable cutoff line for passing all three components of the exam.
Although the scores are used to label schools and districts, the AIMS system is much less refined when it comes to individual student accountability. A simple pass/fail notification sends little information about the student's performance and actual abilities into the marketplace.
During the current legislative session, Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, will propose legislation that will keep the AIMS test but not make it a requirement for graduation. AIMS, as an exam, will continue.
This is a positive step forward, but an incomplete one. His proposal offers no incentive for students to do their best on the AIMS test.
Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, has agreed to co-sponsor Verschoor's legislation but proposes that it be enhanced with a market-based solution. The Downing amendment would place a student's highest AIMS scores in math, writing and reading on the official transcript. Employers, the military, and higher education institutions would then judge for themselves the value of the AIMS scores along with the rest of the student's academic performance and attendance records.
We believe the proposal is humane and still retains the necessity for accountability to high academic standards.
It is aligned with a fact of life: Not all flowers in the garden bloom at the same time. Children and adults mature and overcome life obstacles at different points and at different ages.
Life crises - including illness in a family, divorce, unemployment, financial issues and moving from school to school - can undermine a child's academic progress.
Schools can still be held accountable, but students would not be faced with the loss of a diploma. And our proposal would open the discussion of accountability from the classroom level to the school district level to the state policy-making level.
With more than a half-century of teaching experience between us, we believe positive reinforcement and incentives will produce better-educated students than the punishment of the current high-stakes requirement.
● State Rep. Ted Downing represents Tucson's District 28 in the Legislature. Paul Karlowicz is president of the Tucson Education Association.