Senate chief urged to free up AIMS bill
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 31, 2005

2 Republicans ask him to permit vote

Robbie Sherwood

Republican lawmakers who want to derail the AIMS test as a high school graduation requirement beseeched Senate President Ken Bennett on Wednesday to let their bill get a Senate floor vote.

Sen. Thayer Verschoor and Rep. Andy Biggs, both Gilbert Republicans, said they don't believe high-stakes testing gets results and they want to avoid a "train wreck" next year when tens of thousands of Arizona high school seniors could be held back because they can't pass the test.

Bennett, who supports AIMS as a graduation requirement, has prevented Senate Bill 1069 from moving despite what Verschoor called wide bipartisan support during a news conference outside the Senate. Verschoor and Biggs also acknowledged a personal motivation for pressuring Bennett. Both have children in high school who will soon have to pass the test to graduate.

Bennett was tied up in budget negotiations Wednesday and did not respond to Verschoor's statements. But he said Tuesday that it is too late to hear Senate-sponsored bills, though lawmakers can still push AIMS issues through other pending measures.

He added that he's open to compromises that could be welded onto bills that are still moving. One possible compromise is House Bill 2294, sponsored by Biggs, which would allow students to graduate without passing AIMS as long as they maintained passing grades in curriculum related to the test. It would also exempt special-education students and English-language learners from passing the test.

More than 37,000 members of the Class of 2006 have not passed one or all parts of AIMS.

According to a state Department of Education study, the failure rates last year for the Class of 2006 were disproportionately high among ethnic minorities, particularly in math: 84 percent for Indians, 80 percent for Hispanics and 77 percent for African-Americans, while the rate was 47 percent for White students.

If that statistic holds true, Verschoor sees class-action lawsuits in the state's future.

"I think it will cost this state millions and millions of dollars from all kinds of class-action lawsuits and discrimination suits," Verschoor said.

Business leaders are the strongest proponents of keeping the AIMS test as a graduation requirement.

"The business community supports the continuation of testing that has meaning," said Martin Shultz, a vice president of Pinnacle West, parent company of Arizona Public Service Co. "It can be used as a diagnostic tool, but it should also have consequences as students get closer to graduation."

Includes information from the Associated Press.