April 29, 2005
Key lawmakers are close to a deal that would allow some high school students to graduate without passing the AIMS test. Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, has been using his leadership position to block an earlier plan pitched by two Gilbert lawmakers.
But Thursday, Bennett and Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, told the Tribune they’re working on a new plan that would recognize grades and attendance as factors toward graduation for students who struggle with AIMS.
The change would allow some of this year’s juniors — the first required to pass Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards to graduate — to receive diplomas, even if they fail AIMS in the next school year.
Details are still being worked out.
Bennett said the proposal would create an exemption for seniors with scores that fall within a certain percentage below the minimum score required to pass AIMS.
Those students would have to "be pretty close," but could get diplomas if they have decent grades and fulfill other requirements still under discussion, Bennett said.
Verschoor and Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, are leading a legislative campaign to change the role of AIMS — a decade after state leaders decided the public education system needed a common test to prove students are learning enough. AIMS is supposed to demonstrate high school seniors have the necessary knowledge to go on to higher education or immediate employment.
But half of the class of 2006 has failed the exam, which will affect thousands of students and their families, unless state law is changed.
The House of Representatives gave its approval in March to a plan that would keep AIMS but allow students to graduate without passing. Verschoor appears to have gathered enough votes in the Senate as well, if the issue were to reach the floor.
The legislative session is nearly over, but Verschoor was more optimistic Thursday about reaching a compromise than earlier this month when he was making daily floor speeches to publicly pressure Bennett.
"Almost every group involved in this agrees we need some alternative for those good students who, for whatever reason, are struggling with AIMS," Verschoor said.
Bennett said he also has agreed to expand closed-door negotiations to include Sen. Jorge Garcia, D-Tucson. Garcia is leading a group of Democratic lawmakers who want the AIMS graduation requirement delayed for at least another year for students who don’t speak English as their first language, or attend schools on tribal reservations. Garcia said AIMS doesn’t address the education barriers that confront those two groups, which is why they are failing the test at higher rates.
"My opinion is the standards for AIMS have to be revised, regardless of what you do for the other students," Garcia said. "The reality is there is no connection to what some of these students are learning."
Gov. Janet Napolitano said she likely would sign a bill to make it possible to graduate without passing AIMS.
But Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, said Thursday night he remains fiercely opposed to any further delays or exemptions to AIMS.
"The students who have passed this test are doing their job," Horne said. "The others have to do their job as well."