Proposal lets would-be graduates plump up their scores
with grade-based bonus points
By Howard Fischer
PHOENIX - Juniors in Arizona schools may be able to graduate
next year without passing AIMS, under the terms of a deal being negotiated
at the Capitol.
They just would have to come close to passing the test.
The proposal would maintain the requirement that students
beginning with the class of 2006 still have to take the high-stakes test of
their reading, writing and math skills. And they still would have to try to
But students could use their grades as "bonus points" that
could be traded for additional points on the AIMS test.
A's would be worth more than B's, and on down the line. The
exact value of each grade still has to be worked out.
"Those points would equate to points that could be added to
your AIMS test score that could get you over the hump," said Sen. Thayer
Verschoor, R-Gilbert. He has been the prime proponent in the Senate of an
alternative path to graduation.
The concept has the approval of Senate President Ken Bennett.
The Prescott Republican has used his position to block senators from even
debating any proposal that would allow students to get a diploma without
passing the AIMS test.
Verschoor said he still prefers something with a little more
flexibility. But he said he can live with this plan.
The deal could break the legislative stalemate over the
issue. But it faces opposition from one player outside the legislative
process: state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.
If lawmakers go along anyway, the plan would be good news for
a large number of the approximately 63,500 students in the current junior
Horne said that, at this point, 72 percent of students have
passed the reading portion of the test, known more formally as Arizona's
Instrument to Measure Standards, and 78 percent have a passing score on
Math has been a bit more difficult: While the first test
showed only 37 percent passed, the second boosted that figure to 50 percent.
And Horne said that, by the fifth test, he expects 90 percent of students
will have passing scores on all three sections.
How many more might be spared the possibility of completing
12 years of education but not getting a diploma remains uncertain. Bennett
said the legislation would leave it up to the state Board of Education to
decide how many points each grade is worth.
Jamil Anouti, a junior at Amphitheater High School, said the
possibility of using grades to boost AIMS scores could help students who
were close to passing the exam.
Anouti, who passed the test, said several of his friends
missed the cutoff for passing the test by only a few points.
Still, he's skeptical of the idea.
"I guess you would say that's better, but it's not really
solving the problem," Anouti said. "The fact is we still have to pass this
Classes are forced to stop teaching curriculum in order to
focus on the test, Anouti said.
Also, having one test to determine whether students get a
diploma is too much pressure, Anouti said. Students could be sick the day of
the tests or could have a bad day, he said.
"I think some people are on the border and this would help
them a lot," Anouti said. "This would make them feel better."
Bennett said it would not be unreasonable for a student with
a B average to be able to get enough bonus points to add 20 percent to a
Bennett said, though, it would not be structured in a way to
let students with good grades get enough points to ignore the test entirely.
Horne said he is opposed to the plan - even if that means
close to one out of 10 seniors don't get their diplomas.
"I feel that the important thing is for the students to
acquire the skills that they're going to need for the rest of their lives,"
he said. "And the AIMS test is an indicator to show whether they've got
those skills or not."
Coming close, he said, is not the same as proving students
know what they should.
Horne said he doesn't expect students to be able to answer
every question. But he said 144 Arizona teachers will meet next month to
determine what will be the passing score - meaning the level of knowledge
they believe is necessary.
As for those students who don't pass, Horne pointed out he
already has convinced the state Board of Education to permit students to
continue taking the test even after they complete their senior year. He said
that extended process is not unprecedented, saying 4 percent of high
schoolers already take five years to graduate.
Simply coming close to the passing score and making up the
bonus points with grades would not be the only requirement.
The proposal also would require students to take the test
each of the five times it is offered. And he said those who do not pass
during the first few times also would have to enroll in special remedial
classes to help tutor them.
● Star reporter Aaron Mackey contributed to this