January 27, 2005
High school juniors with diplomas on the line in 2006 will take a revised highstakes graduation test this spring that does not yet have a defined passing score.
Arizona School Administrators Association lobbyist Mike Smith said the changes mean students in the class of 2006 — the first required to pass Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards to graduate — will serve as guinea pigs for the state.
"The test has been a moving target," he said. "The test has changed."
A research scientist for the California-based testing company that created the latest AIMS version told a panel of state lawmakers on Wednesday that the line between pass and fail will not be determined until after students take the test in February, March and April. Nevertheless, the researcher assured lawmakers that the new version of AIMS will be valid and reliable.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who did not attend the panel meeting, said the tweaking of AIMS occurred because teachers hired to write test questions worked in 2004 to align AIMS more closely to state academic standards.
"To the extent that they’re changing the test, that’s to the benefit of the students," Horne said.
Horne said the state has no intention of playing with the pass-fail line to make the test easier to pass. However, he said he is optimistic that a higher percentage of students will pass AIMS this spring simply because the test will more closely match classroom instruction.
About half of all high school juniors in Arizona failed the sophomore-level test on their first two attempts in 2004. If they do not pass this spring, they will receive two more tries during their senior year.
The AIMS discussion came one day after a poll showed that half of Arizona’s registered voters favor the elimination of AIMS as a graduation requirement. Pollster Bruce Merrill conducted the survey for KAET-TV (Channel 8).
Also Wednesday, the House K-12 Education Committee approved a bill that would exempt special-education students from the AIMS graduation requirement if specified in their individualized education programs. The committee also approved a bill that would create an optional "honors" AIMS test with senior-level math, reading and writing.
Students who pass the honors test would receive a $1,000 grant from the state toward tuition at any Arizona college. Already, Arizona’s three public universities offer full-tuition scholarships to any student who maintains a 3.5 grade point average and exceeds state standards on all three portions of the existing AIMS test.
Horne called the concession for special-education students "superfluous" because he said the state Board of Education already passed a similar rule in 2000. Horne has asked the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to issue a formal opinion on whether the rule contradicts state law that requires all high school graduates to pass AIMS starting in 2006.
Mesa Unified School District special-education director Joe Zello disputed Horne’s characterization of the bill as unnecessary. Zello said panicked parents of specialeducation children have approached him about AIMS, and he has been unable to give them clear answers.
"It’s important that we clarify the language," he said. "It matters."
East Valley parents of special-education students who attended Wednesday’s panel meeting agreed.
"Our children are stressed to the max," said Chris Usher, the mother of a Horizon High School junior with a learning disability.