In the past, exceeding on the AIMS testing meant that Arizona high school students could qualify for free tuition at one of the three Arizona universities. Now that the scholarship has been slashed by about three-fourths the original amount, some East Valley high schools are supplying students with their own incentives to encourage high test scores.
Beginning with last year’s sophomore class, Corona del Sol High School in Tempe introduced an Incentive Reward Program tied to the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards. Sophomores that exceed on two of the four AIMS tests qualify for one of the four rewards options: preferred parking, fine arts pass, couple’s ticket to prom or an off-campus lunch ID for the student’s junior year. Students in Corona’s special education program also qualify for the reward program if they exceed on one of the tests.
“Anything that the schools can do to motivate the students to do well, they’re going to do because the student achievement is our number one objective,” said Lina Littell, director of communications for the Tempe Union High School District.
Scores from the AIMS tests are reflected in each high school’s report card published by the Arizona Department of Education. The report card is a way of displaying a school’s success rate, Littell said.
“If you as a parent see a school that has lower test scores and another school that might have higher test scores, where would you tend to want to put your child?” Littell said.
Littell said the state has also stopped funding AIMS tutoring. Tempe Union High Schools are continuing to fund some AIMS tutoring programs using money from their maintenance and operations budget.
“They’ve implemented tutoring programs on their own to assist and motivate students to exceed on the AIMS test,” Littell said.
Desert Ridge High School, a Gilbert Public School in Mesa, is offering an academic incentive for exceeding AIMS scores. Students who retest to exceed in the fall and achieve an exceeding score will be able to drop a low test score in one of their classes for that semester, said Brandie Harris, director of assessment and accountability for Gilbert Public Schools.
The biggest difficulty for Gilbert Public High Schools is encouraging students that met standards on their first attempt at the AIMS to retest to try to exceed standards, Harris said. In the past, students would retest so they could receive the AIMS scholarship.
“That was a big incentive for kids and it’s unfortunate that that’s not there anymore,” Harris said.
Harris said schools across the Gilbert Public School District are also planning “exceeds celebrations” for students who exceed on the retesting when results come in at the end of October.
Other schools haven’t found a need to implement new incentives.
Ken James, principal of Chandler’s Basha High School, said teachers don’t talk to students about passing the AIMS test: their sights are always set on exceeding. James said that they compare Basha to other high schools to motivate the students to always do their best.
“They want to kind of have the bragging rights,” James said. “Fortunately we’ve done pretty well. The students don’t want to be the group that lets the school down basically.”
James said the only time an incentive may come into play is if an individual teacher chooses to look at the AIMS scores and use that information accordingly.
“If a student stays right on the borderline maybe between an A or a B, sitting there at 89 percent, if they get that exceeding they may give them the benefit of the doubt and go up to the 90,” James said.
Terri Wattawa, principal at Williams Field High School, located in Gilbert and part of the Higley Unified School District, said they are looking at the possibility of including incentives but have yet to make a decision. Wattawa said that some other schools in the Higley Unified School District have given prom tickets and other incentives to students who exceed.
Wattawa, said it is now harder to encourage students to exceed, but that some students are still reaching for the AIMS scholarship, even if it has decreased in value.
“Ideally, students want to have excellent test scores and achievement itself is the incentive so we haven’t nailed anything down yet,” Wattawa said.
Jessica, a junior studying journalism at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern with the Tribune this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6548.