State schools Superintendent Tom Horne conceded Wednesday he can’t stop the Legislature from changing the law so some high school students could graduate without passing AIMS.
But, Horne said, he can still recognize kids who pass Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards by giving them special "superintendent’s certificates" along with their diplomas.
Horne has been a vocal opponent of allowing any students in the class of 2006 to graduate without passing AIMS. But on Wednesday, a joint Senate-House conference committee unanimously approved a compromise that, for at least the next two years, lets good grades help make up for falling short on the test.
"I don’t agree with what they’ve done," Horne said. "It hurts the credibility of the system and the motivation of the students. But I’ll do everything I can to maintain those high standards."
As an alternative, Horne said he would issue a special superintendent’s certificate to seniors who pass AIMS without help from their grades. The certificate would provide more information to employers looking to hire high school graduates, he said.
The legislative compromise approved Wednesday would allow seniors who don’t pass AIMS in 2006 and 2007 to graduate if their scores fall within 20 percent of the minimum requirement, and if they maintain good grades. Pressure has been mounting on the Legislature to at least delay the AIMS requirement for a third time as more than half of the class of 2006 hasn’t passed.
The compromise is the culmination of negotiations between test proponents including Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, and opponents led by Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert.
Despite the agreement, several Senate Republicans were still fighting to keep AIMS intact for 2006.
"We’re never going to make it harder again," said Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix. "If we pass this, it will never go back to the way it was."
Others said the compromise would create new pressure on teachers to inflate grades of students at risk for failing AIMS.
But Verschoor was upbeat Wednesday about the chances of passing the compromise.
"I think there was plenty of evidence to say this test shouldn’t be the sole determining factor," Verschoor said. "So we were able to include school work as part of that factor."
AIMS backers probably can’t look for help from Gov. Janet Napolitano if the full Legislature does approve the compromise, possibly today. Napolitano said she opposes a single high-stakes test as the only route to graduation.
What it means: As amended Wednesday, SB1038 would allow some high school seniors to graduate in 2006 and 2007 without passing AIMS if the student has:
• Passed all classes required for graduation.
• Taken the AIMS test every time it’s offered, and completed all available tutoring.
• Scored within 20 percent of the passing score on each section of the AIMS test. For example, if passing a section requires 500 points, a student must have at least 400 points.
• The State Board of Education would establish a system of using class grades to create "bonus points" to raise a student’s AIMS score. "A’s" would be worth more than "B’s," which would be worth more than "C’s." Lower grades couldn’t be counted.