Students face new AIMS
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 20, 2005

Dual assessment test replaces Stanford 9 for elementary kids

Pat Kossan

In April, students across Arizona will face a new reading, writing and math test that's meant to save schools time and produce faster results and more useful scores for parents and teachers.

Every student in third through eighth grades will take a new test, called the AIMS Dual Purpose Assessment.

It replaces the national Stanford 9 test, traditionally given to second- through ninth-graders, and the state elementary AIMS test given to third-, fifth-, and eighth-graders.

That means teachers need to prepare students for only one annual standardized test, but it is one whopper of a test, 164 questions and an essay exam.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne first proposed the single, combined exam in October, saying students were "overtested." The idea received a lukewarm response from educators and business leaders, but Horne eventually won approval from the Arizona State Board of Education.

The new test was developed by teachers, with help from CBT McGraw Hill, which won a $42 million, five-year contract with the state a year ago.

"We are, for the first time, reporting results by specific subject concepts and doing it quickly," Horne said. "This is the best bargain Arizona education has gotten in many years."

The new test also puts the state a step ahead of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires third- through eighth-graders to be tested in math and language arts annually beginning in the 2005-06 school year.

Here are changes parents and teachers can expect:

The annual two-week spring testing regime will be cut in half. That's one of the advantages mentioned most often by educators. In past years, Tolleson Elementary students faced a district test, a state AIMS test, as well as the Stanford 9 norm-referenced test, said Diane Hamilton, superintendent of the growing West Valley district.

"Our kids are tested to death," she said. "We started to feel as if we were teaching for only three-quarters of the year, and testing for the last quarter."

But the new exam is intense and must be administered between April 11 and April 22. It is not timed, but it will take most students about five hours to complete over several days, Hamilton said.

"We hope the kids don't get burned out before they're finished," she said.

Schools are required to teach the state's grade-by-grade learning goals, known as Arizona Academic Standards. Results will show if a child passed or failed each section of the test and how a child compares with peers across the country. For the first time, however, the new test also will show parents how well their child has mastered each specific state grade-level skill, such as vocabulary, organizing an essay or estimating numbers.

Teachers will receive an even more detailed student report, which will help them design lesson plans to bolster each student's learning where it is needed most, said Kelly Powell, Phoenix's Madison Elementary District's student achievement director.

Even district superintendents will receive more specific testing data, showing general academic strengths and weaknesses in each school. The state Department of Education will offer workshops on how teachers and principals can use those test scores to improve teaching.

Parents and teachers can expect results as early as the first two weeks in June. That's more than two months ahead of last year's August release of the AIMS. Additionally, administration of the test has been streamlined. For example, student data are now available on preprinted labels. Schools now will drop completed tests into mail bags and ship them to the test company for scoring.

But if the new timeline is to be met, the State Board of Education must agree to new passing scores on the AIMS Dual Purpose Assessment, as well as the AIMS high school test, by May 11. The board has enlisted the help of 144 local educators and a board of national testing experts to help meet the deadline.

In past years, the state has administered the Stanford 9 to elementary students from second- through ninth-graders. Now, only second- and ninth-graders will take a new, but similar, national test called TerraNova.

All the changes in testing will require state officials to reshape the complicated formula it uses to rank most Arizona schools in October. In the past, the state used averages of three years' worth of multiple test scores to determine if a school received an "excelling," "highly performing," "performing," "underperforming," or "failing" rank. Aside from developing a new ranking formula for 2005, the state is expected to add a sixth rank called "performing plus."