Seniors who flunk AIMS test can just keep trying
 By Howard Fischer
PHOENIX - Seniors who can't pass the AIMS test by the time they're supposed to graduate may now keep taking it, over and over, the state Board of Education voted Monday.
The move means students who fail one or more of the AIMS segments would complete the 12th grade and be out of school but still would have the option to take the test again. Those additional opportunities are designed to aid youngsters who are juniors this year: They cannot get a diploma unless - and until - they pass AIMS.
But the new policy, devised by state School Superintendent Tom Horne, is not getting plaudits from school administrators. They are crafting their own proposal to create a two-tiered diploma system: one for students who pass AIMS, and one for those who try but fail.
And members of the Arizona School Administrators Association intend to take their plan not to the Board of Education, but to the Legislature next year.
Both moves reflect concern that a number of seniors will not be able to pass the math, writing and reading sections of the test, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards.
The test originally was supposed to be a graduation requirement for the Class of 2002. But a high failure rate led the Board of Education to delay that deadline until the 2006 class.
Test scores, however, have not gotten much better. About 40 percent of students who were sophomores when they took the test last spring failed the reading and writing sections. The percentage of students who did not pass the math portion exceeded 60 percent.
Horne refuses to support further delay. But he has acknowledged that 10 percent of seniors might still fail.
Mike Smith, who lobbies for the school administrators, said that translates to about 7,600 seniors - a number that could prove politically unacceptable.
The administrators' plan would create a "general diploma" as an alternative.
It would require that students successfully complete all their course work, said Roger Pfeuffer, interim superintendent of Tucson Unified School District. They also would have to take the AIMS test each time it was offered and have 90 percent or better school attendance.
It also would require students to have participated in remedial course work when offered.
"There really doesn't seem to be any good solution to this," Pfeuffer said. But he said the dual diploma would create "a framework that's workable."
But Horne said letting students get a diploma without proving by passing AIMS they have mastered the subjects would remove incentive to study and do well on the test.
He contends the AIMS test accurately measures what students are expected to have learned during their 12 years of school. Pfeuffer disagrees, calling the standards "unrealistic," especially for math.
The administrators' plan is designed to provide some incentive for students to continue to try to pass the AIMS test, even if were no longer a graduation requirement: Anyone who passed all three sections would not have to take the SAT, ACT or any other college-entrance exam to gain admission to a state university.
There is another flaw in the state board's decision to allow graduates to keep taking the test until they pass: There is no state funding for special courses to help students who have not passed the test by graduation day, lobbyist Smith said.
Horne said funding for tutoring would have to come from the Legislature - something he intends to request this session.