Passing AIMS can mean a high school diploma for students. For teachers, schoolwide improvement on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards can also mean a cash bonus.
And with test scores on the rise this year, East Valley school districts report that more teachers than ever should receive the performance pay funded by a state tax that voters approved in 2000.
Districts such as Mesa Unified and now Gilbert Unified measure their teacher’s performance using AIMS scores as a guide.
"I think that probably we will see more teachers earning the pay for performance money," said Dobson High School teacher Faith Risolo, also president of the Mesa Education Association teachers union. "We spent an incredible amount of time and energy working with kids, both before and after school."
For many teachers whose districts use student performance on AIMS to measure their bonuses, it’s long been a bone of contention that schools that receive new immigrant families struggling in English have a harder time improving scores than those that operate in higher socioeconomic neighborhoods.
Risolo said the changes made this year to the tests — bringing the passing score down to the same 60 percent level needed to pass a class — will help some schools with more at-risk children keep up with others.
On the other hand, Joe O’Reilly, Mesa’s executive director of student achievement support, pointed out that schools with students already performing at 90 percent or more will have a more difficult time improving scores.
"Certainly with these large increases, AIMS has been easier to meet," he said.
But he didn’t necessarily anticipate as large a gain in the bonuses: "Since schools were looking at themselves, I don’t think that’s had a big impact. Schools have to show achievement."