AIMS is doing right job the right way
John J. Pedicone is a member of the Arizona Board of Education and a senior faculty fellow at the University of Arizona.
Last week, the AIMS test results were released, followed by a flurry of reactions to the improvement in scores overall.
The logical question is, "Are students working harder and knowing more as a result of an increased focus by teachers and administrators, or is the improvement from adjustments made to the test?"
The answer to that question is "yes" on both counts. When AIMS was introduced eight years ago, there were serious problems with the test as well as the extent to which schools were focusing on the standards we expect of high school graduates. In terms of the test, a person needed only to take an honest look at the process used to introduce AIMS to understand why failure was inevitable.
Although it is not productive to replay the political agenda that shrouded the initial AIMS administration, it is clear that students and schools were not prepared to meet the standards set at an extremely high level for high school graduation, especially when administered to sophomores who, generally, had not been given the opportunity to learn the necessary material.
As a result, the public outcry that Arizona students were not being educated was met by the perception of educators and parents that AIMS was designed to ensure that the majority of students failed.
Over the past eight years, the challenge has been to determine reasonable levels of expected student achievement, align instruction with the skills kindergarten through 12th-grade students should master and "fix" the assessments so they measure what should be taught. This included addressing concerns about excessive testing brought on by the Arizona law that requires both a nationally normed test designed to see how Arizona students measure up against other children across the country (previously, Stanford 9 and currently Terra Nova) and a criterion-referenced test that measures whether students meet Arizona standards in reading, writing and math (AIMS).
Stir into the mix the large number of non-English-speaking children, and one might agree this has been the "perfect storm." This year, the clouds are clearing a bit. The Arizona test is fairer, more appropriate and closer to the goal of focusing instruction on the skills students need to graduate, while reducing the amount of time spent on testing.
The standards have not changed, but now the achievement expectations are reasonable. Schools have worked hard to develop curricula that address the standards and have continued to refine instructional practices that support student achievement.
Finally, students are recognizing that the test will not "go away" and that they need to be serious about learning and assessment.
As we continue to fix problems that have resulted from a poorly conceived plan, there is the danger these efforts will be perceived as "dumbing down" expectations and reducing the power of the effort. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is important that we do not measure the success of the system by the number of children who fail. Rather, we must judge the process by the number who have a chance to succeed.
Contact John J. Pedicone at