Here are a few sample questions from the math portion of Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards:
1. If 10 percent of would-be high school graduates fail the high-stakes test, how many months will it take until they are working in a car wash?
2. If 90 state legislators fail to give public schools enough money to keep pace with inflation, how many years will it take before teachers have 25 percent more children in their classrooms? What percentage of those teachers will be able to give students more than five minutes of individual attention?
3. If thousands of low-income students continue to test poorly on AIMS, how many years will it take before education officials figure out that kids who come from wealthier neighborhoods typically score better on standardized tests?
How’d you do? If your answers were all over the board, that’s OK. So are the answers from our policymakers.
If you were wondering whether question 3 had more than one answer, you’re right. That’s because our educators already know how to help kids pass standardized tests. After all, it’s not rocket science.
With some notable exceptions, children who live in comfortable homes tend to score higher on standardized tests than kids who are wondering whether they’ll get breakfast. Kids whose parents are college educated tend to score higher on standardized tests than kids whose parents are not. Students whose parents are engaged in their education tend to score higher on standardized tests than students whose parents could care less.
In order to solve those problems, it will take a lot more to improve test results than cracking down on students who aren’t taking the test seriously or penalizing teachers by withholding raises.
Nevertheless, since more than half of Arizona sophomores failed the math portion of AIMS last spring and 40 percent failed reading and writing, the response largely has been to tell students and teachers to buckle down and work harder.
Gov. Janet Napolitano said the results should sound a "clarion call" that something must be done, and looked to the state Board of Education and state schools superintendent Tom Horne to do it.
Horne predicts things will improve as the now-juniors get four more chances to take the test, but fully expects nearly one out of 10 seniors in 2006 won’t get their diplomas.
Now for the real AIMS questions:
If thousands of potential Arizona graduates are on the verge of being denied diplomas, how long will it take the state board to further simplify the test to help kids pass it?
And if the test is dumbed down enough so that every student can pass it, what was the point of this whole thing in the first place?