May 10, 2004
The addition of science to the AIMS test could leave teachers and students with less time for other subjects, some East Valley educators say.
Next year, state officials will begin pilot-testing science questions on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards. In 2007, science will officially become the fourth subject tested on the exam in fourth and eighth grades and high school.
"It’s forcing everyone in the state to take a look at how they have — or haven’t — been teaching science," said Suzie DePrez, a curriculum director with the Mesa Unified School District.
In the Scottsdale Unified School District, 24 new science teachers will be hired next year to help write the district’s new science curriculum to match state standards. Scottsdale elementary teachers who have not made science a priority will be expected to focus more intently on the subject.
Last month, the Paradise Valley Unified School District decided that next year, its students will have to take three years of science instead of two in order to graduate.
So far, educators say, there has been no indication that the Arizona Board of Education will require students to pass the AIMS science test to graduate. Starting in 2006, high school students must pass the reading, writing and math portions of the exam to earn a diploma.
"But even when tests don’t have specific consequences for schools or students, they are released publicly — so you want to do well," said Mesa district spokesman Joe O’Reilly.
Mesa students could be affected more than most in the East Valley because Mesa ninth-graders attend junior high schools, with high school starting at the 10th grade. In other districts, ninth-graders attend high schools, where they start taking required courses.
Mesa’s junior highs require just one semester of science in seventh grade, one semester in eighth grade — and none in ninth grade.
"It’s been a choice to take science in ninth grade," DePrez said. "But freshmen don’t have a lot of choices in most districts."
Already, ninth-graders are required to take algebra, and some also must take reading, in addition to standard requirements such as English and social studies.
"There’s a struggle with how to adequately address things with the limited time you have in a day," DePrez said.
Mesa’s high schools won’t see much change, but the junior highs, which operate on a six-hour day, will feel the pinch. DePrez said she has already been getting calls from teachers of electives, such as music, and parents who worry additional science requirements will limit electives and deplete enrollment in those classes.
"We are asking everyone to realize . . . science is a core subject. It just hasn’t been thought of that way," DePrez said.
Mesa is just starting to form a committee of parents and teachers to investigate the possibility of adding a seventh hour to the junior high school day.
In the Apache Junction Unified S chool District, spokeswoman Carol Shepherd said the district’s schools will be teaching science with more "hands-on" activities, rather than relying solely on textbooks. Apache Junction schools also will also use science materials when teaching reading, math and writing.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has urged schools to use such an approach to ensure that not only science, but also social studies and the arts, are part of learning.
Janey Kaufmann, a curriculum specialist in the Scottsdale district, pointed out that science can help students do better in other subjects.
"What a lot of people haven’t realized is teachers who teach really good science have significantly increased scores in reading, writing and math," she said.