State lawmakers voted this week to scrap the requirement that high schoolers pass the AIMS test before they can graduate. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.
The math, reading and writing sections of AIMS - Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards - have been a graduation requirement since 2006. There have been two major criticisms. First, educators tend to teach to the test. And second, because this is an Arizona-specific exam, there is no way to see how students here do in comparison with those elsewhere. This legislation comes as Arizona schools are transitioning to the Common Core curricula, a set of standards put together by governors, school officials and others nationwide. And the plan eventually is to use a different national test known PARCC - short for Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers - linked to those standards, not as a graduation bar, but to see what students are learning.
That change concerned Representative Carl Seel. "We had a lot more knowledge of what the AIMS test was going to look like, how it would work," Seel said. "We have much less information on how this Common Core test or PARCC test or whatever test they decide to use. We don't know what that test is going to look like."
Representative Kelly Townsend acknowledged that there have been problems with AIMS which forced altering the test to keep large numbers from being denied diplomas. But Townsend was not ready to surrender state control of education. "I'm embarrassed that we had to dumb down the AIMS test. And I'm even more embarrassed that we're just going to dissolve it and look to a national organization, saying, in essence, that we can't do it on our own, we're not qualified to do this on our own."
But Representative Doris Goodale said Common Core is not some federal mandate but a set of standards of what students should know at different points in their education. For example, fourth graders should be able to determine a theme of a story, drama or poem from details in the text. And high schoolers should be capable of interpreting parts of a math expression, such as factors and coefficients. "This is not a curriculum, a test that is coming from the national government," Goodale said. "It is coming from the state of Arizona."
Representative J.D. Mesnard said lawmakers have to scrap AIMS. He pointed out that Arizona students in the lower grades are already being taught according to the new Common Core Curriculum. More to the point, they are no longer being taught according to the AIMS standards. He said keeping AIMS means these students would be tested on something they are no longer being taught. " I will not do that to the kids of this state. I won't do it," Mesnard said. "I think we should revisit Common Core, perhaps. But I won't screw over the kids of Arizona to make some kind of political statement."
Representative John Kavanagh complained that, as flawed as AIMS seems, it provides a standard to ensure that teachers are doing what they're supposed to do and students are learning what they're supposed to learn. But Representative Sonny Borrelli said that's putting too much faith in such tests. "We put a man on the moon without mandatory school testing to graduate high school," Borrelli said. "We left that control local to the teachers to do their job and grade and be professionals that we pay them to do."
The fate of the bill now rests with Governor Jan Brewer. Press aide Matthew Benson said his boss supports the concept. "The heart of Common Core is moving away from the AIMS test and moving to a better test which provides a better benchmark of how Arizona students are performing compared to peers nationally and internationally."