AIMS irregularities delay scores being sent to parents
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 27, 2006

Karina Bland

Parents in the Phoenix Union High School District will have to wait a little longer for their students' AIMS test scores as state education officials investigate irregularities in results.

Students must pass the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, test to graduate. On Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and 2, juniors and seniors in Phoenix Union who had not passed the AIMS test could retake it.

The irregularities in scores surfaced somewhere in those test results."We're working with the Arizona Department of Education to figure it out and resolve it," district spokesman Craig Pletenik said.

He would not identify the classes in question for confidentiality reasons.
However, it is believed that only one school is involved.

Irregularities in AIMS results aren't unusual, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said: "It happens every testing cycle. It happens somewhere."

Sometimes, a parent or teacher will make a report of something amiss. Other times, people grading the tests will notice identical working in a number of students' essays or that half a class followed the same pattern in filling out multiple-choice answers.

In 2004, as many as nine Arizona school districts were under scrutiny for irregularities in AIMS and other standardized test scores. For the most part, it was not the case of widespread cheating but unintentional deception.

Sometimes, it is as innocent as teachers not understanding proper procedures for administering the test. At Creighton Elementary School District in Phoenix, for example, some teachers allowed students to take the writing portion of the AIMS test over two days instead of the one allotted.

Still, any unusual spikes or drops in scores tend to create suspicion, and district administrators and state education officials typically work quickly to figure out what happened.

Horne said Phoenix Union administrators were working with his staff at his office across the street from the state Capitol late Monday.

He has a proposal before the Legislature to improve measures for detecting cheating by computer during grading.

One such measure called "erasure analysis," which runs about $60,000, could detect if a number of answers in a classroom set of tests have been erased and correctly answered. Another looks at long-range patterns in testing for possible deception - for example, a class of students who scores high one year but then low the next year could indicate a problem.

"If somebody gets away with cheating, it undermines the credibility of the testing," Horne said.

AIMS results were released statewide to districts Friday as scheduled. The district then mails reports home, though parents in Phoenix Union will receive a letter explaining the delay in receiving their children's scores.

Their results will be released when the review is complete, Pletenik said, probably in early to mid-January.

Delaying the results puts a hold on scheduling tutoring or other intervention programs for students who didn't pass. However, Pletenik said students who planned to graduate this month and were counting on their AIMS results will get those.

"We have identified those students and will deal with them on an individual basis," he said.