Educators across the East Valley are trying to take the stress out of the AIMS test for elementary and middle school students taking the exam this week.
"While I tell them it is important to show what they know and to do their best, I also try and put them at ease by telling them that this test doesn't dictate their success as a student or as an adult," said Leo Schlueter, fifth-grade teacher at Erie Elementary School in Chandler.
Testing on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards started Monday and will end Friday in East Valley school districts. The test measures students' knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics in third through eighth grades.
High school students are on a different testing schedule. They took the AIMS reading and writing tests in February and will take the math test next week.
Joe O'Reilly, executive director of student achievement support for the Mesa Unified School District, said schools send notes to parents telling them they shouldn't overemphasize the test to children in the younger grades.
“But kids hear parents and others talking about the AIMS test,” O'Reilly said. “Just picking up clues around them they know the test is important to others.”
The AIMS test is used to label the academic performance of schools under state and federal accountability laws. In 2006, students will be required to pass the high school exam to graduate.
While the stakes are not as high in the elementary grades, teachers and parents use AIMS to track students' progress and to ensure they are learning the state standards leading up to high school.
Schlueter said he tells students to relax because they have spent a good part of the year preparing for this. "I tell them it's not something they can go home and study for but they just need to do their best," Schlueter said.
Lisa Hobson, principal of Tempe's Bustoz Elementary School, said she and the school's teachers are trying to reduce students’ stress.
"A lot of teachers are putting positive incentives on the chalkboard," Hobson said. "One teacher has ‘AIMS test — You can do it!’ "
Many schools are providing food for students to keep up their energy.
This year, Scottsdale's Tonalea Elementary School began a new morning snack program to make sure students had energy to keep up with the testing season that began with the Stanford 9 Achievement Test in March.
The Tempe Elementary School District is providing free breakfast to students in third through fifth grades for the week of AIMS testing, said spokesman Jon Brodsky. Hobson said the school is directing students to the cafeteria as soon as they arrive on campus to encourage them to eat breakfast.
"We tell them if they've already eaten breakfast then to just chat with their friends for 10, 15 minutes," Hobson said. "After they're done in the cafeteria, then they can go to the playground."
Schlueter said that while the Chandler district has asked parents to make sure their children eat breakfast, he also provides food for them in the morning and snacks in the afternoon.
"It's usually something such as fresh fruit and granola bars," he said. "It's just something to eat as a pick-me-up." Greta Olson, language arts coach at Tempe's Connolly Middle School, said a supplier is coming on campus this week to sell smoothies to students. "Also, food and snacks are allowed in the classrooms during the tests," Olson said. "In my classroom, I provide water, trail mix and other snacks."
Students devote long periods of time to the tests, she said. "Today there were two math sections at about 60 minutes each," Olson said. "To sit for two hours requires brain food."
The extras seem to be working. Yoshiko Thompson and Rebekah Celaya, third-graders at Mesa's Adams Elementary School, said they were stressed out initially, but took deep breaths to calm down.
Both 9-year-olds said they thought a lot about AIMS over the weekend. But the test wasn't as hard as they thought it would be, they said.
Yoshiko and Rebekah agreed that they'll be less nervous today.
"When you use your brain, it's easier," Yoshiko said.
- Tribune writers Tracy Kurtinitis and Beth Lucas contributed to this report.