1/3 of seniors fail AIMS
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/107973

Nearly 20,000 high school seniors are still failing Arizona's high-stakes exit exam, according to new figures from the state Department of Education, although educators still say they'll dramatically improve those numbers in time for May graduation.

Some will graduate anyway, either because they aren't required to take the test or because legislation allows their classroom grades to boost scores on the state's AIMS test.
And about 10,000 of the roughly 63,000 seniors who are still enrolled in school likely won't graduate for other reasons, such as poor grades or attendance, even if they do pass AIMS.
But the numbers still show that roughly a third of the class of 2006, the first required to pass AIMS, are not meeting the appropriate standards in writing, reading and math, even despite changes in the questions and grading formula meant to get more students passing. Now, local schools are intensifying their efforts in the remaining months before graduation to get more students passing.
In Tucson's largest school district, 75 percent are now passing AIMS, up from 30 percent the first time they took the test as sophomores. But Tucson Unified School District officials pointed out that with a formula that will boost some students' scores with classroom grades, 80 percent of students are passing. And another 9 percent won't need to pass because they have learning disabilities or are learning English as a second language.
"I think we're seeing continuous progress," TUSD Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne echoed that thought, saying that even though 19,500 students statewide are not passing, he expects 95 percent of Arizona seniors who would have graduated in the absence of AIMS to receive a diploma.
"In the general sense, it is always disturbing when you have kids dropping out, but with respect to the impact of AIMS, if you isolate the impact, it will be less than 10 percent," he said. "That's a lot less than some had predicted."
The figures, released by the state Monday for publication today, include scores from the most recent offering of the exam, given in the fall. That test was the fourth chance for seniors to pass, though students will have another chance this spring and again in July. Although those who fail won't receive a diploma even if they fulfill all the other graduation requirements, they can keep taking the test after high school.
Math continues to be the hardest subject to pass in Arizona, and Catalina Foothills High School senior Julie Mutnansky said that's probably because many of the problems on the test aren't taught in class.
"There's a lot of things on the test that don't correlate to what we're learning," said Mutnansky, 18, who had to take the math test twice, but passed after studying textbooks.
Those who have trouble with the writing section may have difficulty putting opinion-based answers to paper, she said.
"It's a different kind of thing, the writing test," she said. "You don't learn how to pass that one as much as the math test."
To help students pass all three sections, educators in districts across Tucson said they have plans to get a diploma in every senior's hand this May. In the Sunnyside Unified School District, for example, Superintendent Raul Bejarano said math class sizes could be reduced and more teachers hired to provide lagging students with the extra attention they need.
TUSD's focus is specifically on 300 students who still haven't passed, Pfeuffer said. That will mean more tutoring and letters home to parents.
"It will be very intensive," said Angela Julien, principal of Rincon High School.
Flowing Wells Superintendent Nic Clement spoke the words that were on many administrators' minds this week as they reviewed scores.
"Our goal is 100 percent" passing seniors, he said, adding that students who want to participate in May's graduation ceremonies must pass AIMS.
Many districts in Tucson are enforcing the same policy, although Catalina Foothills will let seniors participate in the ceremony if they complete all core curriculum classes but did not pass the test.
Few of Flowing Wells' seniors are in danger of not graduating. Five percent of the class 17 of 370 still haven't passed AIMS.
The 17 seniors will know in January if their grades helped them pass AIMS, Clement said.
If that doesn't help and they don't pass the April AIMS, the students would have to take summer remediation classes, which Clement doesn't see as an appealing option.
"Our goal is to not have seniors in that situation," he said, "because once May comes, they're in that new life and it's really hard to come back and finish credits or do something like take a test again."
And while schools have their eyes on the class of 2006, the class of 2007 is not far behind. Educators say they understand the importance of AIMS more than current seniors. A year younger, their passing rates are already the same as seniors'.
"You absolutely can see those kids sitting and watching and taking the temperature of this whole thing," said Valerie Payne, principal at Sabino High School. "May '06 is the defining moment for all of us."

By the numbers

The number of Arizona high school seniors
The number of seniors who would graduate in May if AIMS didn't exist
The number of seniors who have passed all three AIMS sections
The number of seniors who have not passed AIMS
Of seniors have passed all three AIMS sections
Have passed all three sections, or will because of a formula that factors in classroom grades
Are passing all three sections, passing with the formula that includes grades or are exempt
NOTE: Some students aren't required to take AIMS due to learning disabilities or because they are learning English as a second language. Others may pass because of legislation that factors in classroom grades.


On StarNet: Find statewide results at azstarnet.com/education
● Reach Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or dscarpinato @azstarnet.com, and Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or jcommings@azstarnet.com.