Original URL: http://www.dailystar.com/dailystar/news/7405.php

State will shorten, combine kids' tests
By Barrett Marson and Sarah Garrecht Gassen

Second proposal would ease 8th-grade AIMS math exam

PHOENIX - Elementary and middle school students will lose a week of testing next year, as the state Board of Education voted Monday to combine and shorten two standardized tests.

And the board will decide in February whether to make it easier for eighth-graders to pass the math portion of the AIMS test.

The Stanford 9, given every year to measure Arizona students against their counterparts across the country, and the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards will take just one week rather than the two it takes now. The tests are given in the spring.

Eliminating classroom time to prepare and take the Stanford 9 will allow students to do better without school officials' losing the ability to gauge their knowledge, supporters of the move said.

Children in lower grades do not need to pass AIMS, but schools are rated on the test results. By 2006, all high school students will have to pass the AIMS tests to graduate. AIMS tests cover reading, writing and math.

Phasing in the testing reductions or creating a pilot program were brushed aside by the board. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said it would cost $600,000 to $700,000 to conduct a pilot study. None of the other 18 states planning similar moves will conduct pilot studies, according to the Department of Education.

Flowing Wells Superintendent John Pedicone, a member of the state board, said reducing the time for the tests should increase the amount of learning in the classroom.

"It's not just a week of testing, but one or two weeks of preparation," Pedicone said after the meeting. "It makes all the sense in the world to put that time into instruction."

Pedicone, who had been skeptical of the move, said he now approves because a department analysis of previous tests showed virtually the same scores based on fewer questions.

"A smaller number of questions should yield the same results," he said.

Consolidating the AIMS and Stanford 9 tests in one shorter test will give students more time to learn, local school officials agree.

"Less time on testing means you can go more in-depth, do more enrichment and have a good additional five days, at the minimum, where you're able to focus on instruction instead of test preparation," said Anna Rivera, the Tucson Unified School District's senior academic officer for leadership.

Students were confused by taking two tests, Rivera said. They'd take the first round, and then by the time the second test came a few weeks later, they'd be asking, "Didn't we just take this test?"

"This will help alleviate stress on students," Rivera said.

Kids will have more time to learn with only one test, said Aundrea Esplin, mother of four students from first grade through high school.

"I feel it's good, so they don't spend so much time studying for a test and more time learning what they're supposed to be learning in school," Esplin said. "Sometimes they do so much testing, they spend more time teaching for the test than learning in the classroom."

The biggest benefit would come if the state pushed back the testing date to later in the spring, said Wendy Conger, principal at Apollo Middle School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

"If the extra class time comes after the students take the test, then it's kind of after the fact," Conger said. "I think the kids get tired with two tests - it's better that they've changed it."

Also Monday, a new scoring system for the eighth-grade AIMS math test was proposed because state Education Department officials believe the test scores do not accurately reflect student achievement.

Under the proposal, which will be discussed in February, eighth-graders would have to earn at least a 72 rather than a 78 - or tally three fewer correct questions - to pass the AIMS math test.

"It's not to make it easier; it's just to correct a mistake," Horne said.

According to the Education Department, lowering the passing score to 72 percent would boost the number of passing students to 32 percent, up 11 points.

The score of 78 needed to pass math was the highest; third-graders need to score 75 in order to pass.

Apollo Principal Conger supports the proposed change in the eighth-grade test.

"They took the data and I think they want to make it more successful for more students," she said. "It's not lowering the standard or watering it down - it's  probably being more realistic.

"We don't want to disenfranchise kids," she said.

* Contact Barrett Marson at 1-602-271-0623 or at bmarson@azstarnet.com.

Home Page     Events and Information   Awards&Scholarships   AABE NEWS 2004      News( 2003)       News(2002)       Publications      Board_Information     Board Contact     Goals      Feedback     Research Links     Links