High Stakes For Third Graders Taking AIMS Test

Apr 18, 2014

This month, students across Arizona are taking the AIMS test for the very last time. Beginning next school year, the state will use a new exam that’s more in line with common core standards, like reading. As Arizona Public Radio’s Aaron Granillo reports, the stakes are particularly high for third graders.

Credit State of Arizona Education Dept.

When eight-year-old Deia Mulligan is in third grade next school year, she’ll be taking her first-ever standardized test. If she doesn’t pass the reading section, state law says she’ll have to repeat third grade. That’s a little unsettling for her mom, Veronika Fabian.

“I have no sense of how good she is at standardized testing. I don’t know,” Faibian said. “Some people are good at that, some people aren’t. I just feel like those tests don’t really reflect the child’s intelligence.”

This year’s third graders - some 84,000 statewide - will be the first group of students to be held back if they don’t pass the reading portion of Arizona’s standardized test. That’s because of a law passed in 2010, but implemented just this school year.

“The research does share that if there are problems in reading at third grade, that’s a strong indicator of how successful they will be in future years,” said Mary K. Walton, assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction at Flagstaff Unified School District.

Walton said the law allowed time for families to prepare for this reality, doing what they could at home to help their kids strengthen reading skills.

“We want that home activity to be supplemental, to be fun, to be interactive with the rest of the family. So it’s an enjoyable process, and not a scary one or a punitive one in any way,” said Walton.

At Marshall Elementary School in Flagstaff, the hallways are unusually quiet as students finish up the last days of AIMS testing. Principal John Coe said since the law passed, teachers have gone through extensive training in reading education. Typically one to two third graders per school do not pass the reading section of the exam. But Coe said under the new law, those students will have another shot at success.

“If they fall far below at the end of this academic year, they’ll be required to attend summer school for several weeks,” said Coe. “At the end of summer school they‘ll be able to take a test, and if they’re able to demonstrate their proficiency they’ll move forward."

Third graders will know by next month whether or not they passed the reading section of the state’s last AIMS test. That’s also when schools will start field testing a new standardized exam to replace it.