Passing AIMS
December 9, 2004


Of course seniors who flunk the AIMS test should be able to take it until they pass. Such a simple concept should not have required a full state school board vote this week.

The vote, though, should have been targeted at legislators rather than students. That's because legislators hold the purse strings that will determine the success of AIMS and school reform in Arizona.
Without money to pay for the tools needed to pass AIMS, the test is meaningless. Those tools would include such basics as teacher training, all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and a comprehensive tutoring programs.
AIMS - which stands for Arizona Instrument to Measure Success - requires testing in elementary, middle and high school. To graduate from high school, today's juniors must pass the reading, writing and math portions of the test.
So far, the outlook is grim for broad graduation rates come 2006. Widespread failures were recorded on each of the three portions of the test when the sophomores took the test last spring. The math portion proved the toughest, with more than 60 percent of the state's sophomores flunking.
When that many students fail, there is something wrong with the test or there is something wrong with the teaching.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, no fan of AIMS as a high-stakes test, said last summer that the failures should be a "clarion call" to the state's educators. "Something is not happening in our schools that needs to be happening," she said.
She's right. There are a lot of things not happening in the schools - including acceptance of AIMS from the educational community.
But a plan from the state's school administrators to create a "general diploma" alternative to the AIMS diploma is not the answer.
The general diploma, according to Tucson Unified School District interim Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer, would require successful completion of all course work, taking the AIMS test and remedial course work every time they are offered and recording an attendance rate of at least 90 percent.
This proposal would undermine AIMS and the intent of the test. One has to ask what would be accomplished with the creation of a new diploma if there is no corresponding change in curriculum.
Further, school administrators from around the state were misguided when they suggested an incentive for students to take the AIMS test if they are given the option: exempting those who pass AIMS from taking a college entrance exam to enroll in an Arizona university. The two tests measure vastly different things. AIMS tests for skills. The ACT and SAT are used to help build a student body.
This automatic entry into the state's higher-education system would also complicate efforts now under way to tighten, not loosen, entrance requirements.
We do agree with the governor that something is wrong with our system when, after years of testing, a majority of the state's students can't pass the math test.
It may be time to review what we are testing.
A second diploma, though, circumventing the intent of school reform, is an option that should be taken off the table.