Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/tue/31118STANDARDIZEDTESTING.html

Stanford AIMS to become one test
State board OKs move; exam could come by '05
November 18, 2003
By Sarah Garrecht Gassen

Arizona students will have less to stress about next school year after the State Board of Education combined two types of intense standardized tests into one, shorter exam designed to measure what students know and how they compare nationally.

The State Board of Education approved a plan to give elementary and middle school students one test based on the AIMS exam beginning in 2005. The new test will replace the existing two-test system of spending about one week on the AIMS tests and one week taking the Stanford 9 test.

Students currently take the AIMS test to measure what they know and the Stanford 9 test as a way to measure their performance against national averages.

Under the new test, which could be given as soon as 2005, a quarter of the math test questions and 30 percent of the reading questions would be pulled from a bank of test items that can be compared nationally.

High school students will still take just the AIMS test, which this year's sophomore class must pass to graduate.

"There were members of the state board - and I was one of them - that had to be convinced that we weren't moving too quickly," said John Pedicone, board of education member and superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District.

"I am convinced that this is the best concept," he said.

The board will decide in January whether to move ahead with the new combined test in 2005 or to field-test the new exam first and begin administering it in 2006.

"I think it makes a lot of sense, but the devil is in the details," Pedicone said.

The new exam will feature about 70 reading questions and about 80 math questions that are based on the Arizona academic standards, similar to the current AIMS test students take each spring.

The test will include questions that can be used to compare Arizona students' performance against how students across the nation scored on the same questions. This evaluation method is called "norm referenced" testing, which is what the Stanford 9 test is used for.

State law requires "norm referenced" testing and federal law requires standards-based testing, such as the AIMS.

Students likely won't notice much of a difference in the tests, other than the new single test will be shorter than the two separate exams. Students will still take both tests this spring.

Using a new, single exam could save the state up to $1 million a year, but any savings would be used to allow high schoolers to retake the AIMS test for higher scores, said Arizona School Superintendent Tom Horne.

Arizona now spends $6.8 million each year to create and administer AIMS and $2.1 million a year on Stanford 9 testing.

It is possible to create a test that will measure both what students know and how they compare nationally, said Jerry D'Agostino, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Arizona.

A shorter test will have a higher error rate than a longer test, which could reduce its reliability a bit, but not enough to "sound an alarm," D'Agostino said. But the added week of class time that's no longer used for testing has its benefits, he said.

"But what you gain is the teacher will have more time to instruct the child and that's a good trade-off," D'Agostino said.

Gloria Renee Rodriguez, a junior at Pueblo High School, said being properly prepared for standardized tests is more important than how many tests students take.

"When I took the AIMS as a sophomore, it was a shock - there was stuff on there not covered by the teachers," she said.

Parent Dave Ingraham supports reducing the number of days devoted to testing instead of instruction but still questions the utility of standardized exams.

"One test should be sufficient," said Ingraham, who has a daughter at Canyon del Oro High School in the Amphitheater Public Schools district.

"I don't see any changes in the academic programs because of the testing, I don't see any changes in teaching philosophies or administrative philosophies," Ingraham said.

Virginia Molina supports merging the tests into one but is concerned that her daughter, who attends an alternative high school, will still have problems taking the exams because of stress.

"She gets nervous and has to go to school early on test days," Molina said. "Sometimes she doesn't want to go to school when test time comes around."

Molina does rely on test scores as a gauge, she said.

"They tell me if my kids are doing good, if they understand their studies, if they're making it in school," she said.

* Contact Sarah Garrecht Gassen at 573-4117 or at sgassen@azstarnet.com.