to rejoice and to work harder
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 8, 2006
Could anything be more bittersweet?
Almost literally on the eve of graduation day, Arizona's high school seniors
learned that far fewer students than expected had failed to meet the standards
of the AIMS graduation test.
In the Glendale Union High School District, every student qualified to march on
graduation night. Likewise in Deer Valley, where just 23 of 1,950 seniors failed
to pass all three portions of the AIMS test but graduated nonetheless because
they accumulated sufficient "bonus points" in their core classes.
The news was nearly as good elsewhere. In the Phoenix Union High School
District, where many educators feared the AIMS failure rate would be
devastatingly high, just 32 students - less than 1 percent of the senior class -
did not graduate for having failed the test.
Statewide, educators peg the failure rate at 2 percent of the 2006 class, the
first cadre of high school seniors whose matriculation depended on the test
results. That is less than half of the failure rate predicted in a best-case
scenario just a few months ago. On campuses throughout the state, the sense of
relief was palpable.
Yes, but . . . still.
Still, there are students who could not make it over the bar. It is one thing to
argue academically about the inevitability of trade-offs, about the mathematical
certainty that because we have established a set of standards, some percentage
of students will fail to meet them, no matter what. We knew it would come to
that for some.
It is another matter entirely to be that senior. To open that fateful envelope
holding the stark, sorry evidence that whatever effort you put into the test, it
wasn't enough to make the grade. For those students and their families, that is
pure heartbreak. There is no other way to say it.
Difficult as it may be, those students must keep faith in themselves.
"We have not given up on anybody," says Arizona Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tom Horne. Even after graduation, those students will have more
opportunities to pass the test. They must try.
The march has been long - 10 years, plus - to this fateful first year linking
high school diplomas and passage of AIMS. And, of course, arguments over its
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge refused to suspend the test results as a
graduation requirement. But Judge Kenneth Fields reserved the possibility that
he might do so retroactively following another hearing, now set for July.
But attitudes about the test are changing. Arizona State University's Education
Policy Studies Laboratory - no champion of "high-stakes" testing - recently
released survey results showing that support for the test is on the advance,
especially among Hispanic families.
Given that English-language learners constitute a substantial proportion of
students failing the exam, the growing support of the test among Hispanics is a
powerful statement on behalf of measurable standards.
There seems little doubt that a primary goal of AIMS is being met. Students are
working harder because of it.
Justin Benson, an 18-year-old senior at Mesa Westwood High, is no fan of the
test. But when he saw that he had earned enough points to pass the math section,
the reaction he expressed to Republic reporter Anne Ryman surely warmed the
hearts of AIMS advocates everywhere:
"I had my doubts," he said, "but then again I studied really hard."