Senate panel votes to drop AIMS graduation mandate
Associated Press
Feb. 17, 2005

Paul Davenport
A Senate committee voted Wednesday to repeal the requirement that Arizona high school students pass the AIMS test to graduate. The AIMS requirement could keep diplomas out of the hands of thousands of students.

The K-12 Education Committee's 5-3 vote sent the AIMS bill, Senate Bill 1069, to the full Senate, where it could be considered as early as next week.

AIMS, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, is a state-mandated exam that measures students' mastery of the state's curriculum standards in math, reading and writing. The high-stakes graduation requirement begins with current juniors, the Class of 2006.

After taking the test two out of the five chances they'll have through their high school career, more than half of the current juniors have failed at least one part of the test.

Unless the high-stakes requirement is lifted, they need to pass all three parts to graduate.

The state has launched a tutoring program through school districts to help thousands of juniors having difficulty passing the test.

Gilbert Republican Sen. Thayer Verschoor, the sponsor of the repeal legislation, called the high-stakes graduation requirement an all-or-nothing state mandate but said he wants to keep AIMS as a diagnostic tool.

"This doesn't end accountability," Verschoor said. "This doesn't eliminate the taking of the test."

However, Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, said the repeal would undermine efforts that have spurred students to work harder to master required curriculum because of the looming graduation requirement.

"They're really trying hard to pass it," said Cheuvront, who voted against the bill. "If we get rid of this test, all of a sudden it becomes meaningless."

The committee's vote came after Verschoor told members that he's committed to negotiating with educators, business leaders and others on possible changes to the bill.

One alternative version distributed but not voted on Wednesday would have loosened but not entirely repealed the graduation requirement.

That draft would have lifted the requirement for disabled and special-education students and students who had near-perfect attendance, completed all required courses, had grades of C or better in those required
courses and taken AIMS every time it was offered.

Also Wednesday, the Senate committee voted to endorse a separate bill, SB 1352, to give exceptions for special-education and disabled students.

Attorney General Terry Goddard last week issued a legal opinion saying that districts can exempt special-education students from passing the test to get a diploma.

Goddard's opinion said state law already lets districts develop graduation requirements for high school students enrolled in special-education programs based on each student's individual education program.

The high-stakes requirement enjoys backing from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and Senate President Ken Bennett.

Gov. Janet Napolitano is critical of the high-stakes requirement but has said she doesn't want to mislead students into thinking it will be dropped or again postponed.