GUEST COLUMN OPINION BY JOHN J. PEDICONE
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
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
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.