AIMS Test: Good news, bad news
TUSD's scores rise and decline in 2003
August 28, 2003
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

Almost one-third of TUSD schools improved their scores in all three subjects - reading, writing and math - on the 2003 AIMS standardized test. But students in some of those schools still did not know enough to master the subjects.

Conversely, the scores at 28 of Tucson Unified School District's 118 schools and alternative programs declined in all three subjects tested on AIMS.

Other school districts' scores were not available because the Arizona Department of Education is not releasing the data until Tuesday, although school districts received the scores Monday.

TUSD briefly posted its scores on its Web site this week but quickly took them down because of the Education Department's embargo on releasing scores until Tuesday.

Students take the AIMS test each spring. The test is based on what the state determines students should know at each grade level.

Students in the Class of 2006 - this year's sophomores - must show they know enough to meet the academic standards in order to earn a high school diploma. High school students take the tests in 10th grade and can retake those they do not pass in their junior and senior years.

All but one TUSD high school increased writing scores over last year, and that was University High - which repeated its perfect 100 percent performance this year.

Cholla Magnet High School posted gains in all three subject areas over last year.  Despite the improvements, less than half of the students passed the writing and math tests.

Cholla's highest score was in reading, which went from 47 percent passing the test last year to 54 percent this year.

That makes sense to Principal Sam Giangardella.

"We concentrated on the areas where kids were seriously weak, and reading was the big one for us last year," he said.

A shift is also going on with teachers at Cholla from " 'what did I teach today' " to " 'what did the students learn today' " - because they're not always the same, Giangardella said.

The strict focus on reading, writing and math has meant Cholla has not expanded fine arts or other offerings, despite student interest, Giangardella said.

"I might want to expand social studies to include a Native American or African-American history class that would be good for my school and a good
class for kids, but now the concentration is zeroing in on the academic standards," he said.

Rincon High improved in writing and math over 2002 scores, using sustained silent reading and an upfront approach to prepare students for the AIMS test.

Alexandra Phillips did not have to take the tests last year as a ninth-grader but said her teachers were preparing the students for the tests already.

"I've been talked to in math class about it already, and I was talked to about it in freshman algebra as well," Phillips said. "They're telling us how important it is and teaching us what we need to know.

"They're straightforward about what we need to learn for the test. We don't have to guess."

Students at Pueblo Magnet High School increased their writing scores by 13 percentage points over last year. Almost 62 percent of the students showed they knew enough about grammar and writing styles to pass the test, compared with 48 percent of students last year.

All teachers at Pueblo concentrate on writing, even in classes such as physical education and mariachi, said Principal Richard Carranza.

"It makes the students realize that there is nowhere you will go where you will not write," Carranza said. "This tells us we're on the right path."

Students in mariachi class don't just work on their music but write regular reviews of performances and incorporate writing into the class.

"It's even better, because kids are writing about something they love," Carranza said.

Menlo Park Elementary School, which was labeled "underperforming" last fall by the State Department of Education, showed big gains in writing and math. The school is improving slowly but surely, said Principal Patricia McElroy.

Teachers have been seeing anecdotal proof for a while, but now the numbers are showing progress, she said.

"We've seen things at the school, like when students are waiting in the front office, they see the books we have there and students are now picking them up and reading them - that's new," McElroy said.

* Contact reporter Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at