Arizona students, teachers and parents are
racing toward a precipice. Students currently in
their junior year of high school must pass the
reading, writing and math portions of the
Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards or AIMS
test to graduate in May 2006.
To advocates of high standards, this requirement
may sound reasonable. But because of the
questionable reliability and validity of the
scoring of the AIMS test and inadequate funding
to promote high standards and provide
remediation for at-risk students, a well-meaning
attempt to hold schools and students accountable
has turned into bad public policy. Solutions
sometimes become problems.
Under the current system, state government sorts
students into bad apples and rejected apples,
establishing a movable cutoff line for passing
all three components of the exam.
Although the scores are used to label schools
and districts, the AIMS system is much less
refined when it comes to individual student
accountability. A simple pass/fail notification
sends little information about the student's
performance and actual abilities into the
During the current legislative session, Sen.
Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, will propose
legislation that will keep the AIMS test but not
make it a requirement for graduation. AIMS, as
an exam, will continue.
This is a positive step forward, but an
incomplete one. His proposal offers no incentive
for students to do their best on the AIMS test.
Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, has agreed to
co-sponsor Verschoor's legislation but proposes
that it be enhanced with a market-based
solution. The Downing amendment would place a
student's highest AIMS scores in math, writing
and reading on the official transcript.
Employers, the military, and higher education
institutions would then judge for themselves the
value of the AIMS scores along with the rest of
the student's academic performance and
We believe the proposal is humane and still
retains the necessity for accountability to high
It is aligned with a fact of life: Not all
flowers in the garden bloom at the same time.
Children and adults mature and overcome life
obstacles at different points and at different
Life crises - including illness in a family,
divorce, unemployment, financial issues and
moving from school to school - can undermine a
child's academic progress.
Schools can still be held accountable, but
students would not be faced with the loss of a
diploma. And our proposal would open the
discussion of accountability from the classroom
level to the school district level to the state
With more than a half-century of teaching
experience between us, we believe positive
reinforcement and incentives will produce
better-educated students than the punishment of
the current high-stakes requirement.
● State Rep. Ted Downing represents
Tucson's District 28 in the Legislature.
Paul Karlowicz is president of the Tucson