By Daniel Scarpinato
U.S. may count AIMS scores of English learners
A possible federal crackdown on AIMS scores would put 150 schools statewide
at risk of government intervention and eventual loss of their principals.
The U.S. Department of Education is considering requiring Arizona to report
the standardized test scores of students who aren't proficient in English,
state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Friday.
The move, which Horne opposes, would put schools in jeopardy of failing
federal requirements, called Adequate Yearly Progress, which are part of the
No Child Left Behind Act.
Right now, English learners are not calculated with the rest of the AIMS
scores. If a school fails to make progress, the government eventually can
step in and replace the principal and teachers.
"If they are just beginning to learn the language, there is no way to make a
student sufficiently proficient in English to pass an exam in English,"
Last year, 302 Arizona schools failed the standards, according to the state
Department of Education. Forty-five were in Southern Arizona.
But officials in Tucson's largest school district, where 13 schools failed
to meet the federal standards in the evaluations released last year, are not
raising concerns about the possible policy change, nor taking a position on
whether the policy should change. Tucson Unified School District has 7,500
students labeled English learners.
"The effect on the kids will actually not be great at all," said Steve
Holmes, director of Language Acquisition for the district, in a conference
call with TUSD Deputy Superintendent Patti Lopez. "We haven't seen a real
correlation between English language learners and Adequate Yearly Progress."
Still, scores for English learners were drastically lower last year than
those of English speakers. For example, in Pima County last year, 75 percent
of high school sophomore English speakers who took the AIMS reading test
passed. Only 17 percent of English learners in that same category passed the
For those scores to have an impact on school labels, the school must have a
high enough concentration of English learners to change the overall
Leaving English learners out of reported numbers was an important step in
Arizona's move to sign on to the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2003,
"We had a verbal agreement," he said. Officials in the middle level of the
federal agency started talking about backing out of it, he said, but "I know
some of the people in the department, and I believe they will follow their
Arizona's situation is unusual because many states allow English learners to
take standardized tests in their native tongues. But a law approved by
Arizona voters in 2000 requires that all students take tests in English
Horne said because of that law, which cannot be overturned by the
Legislature, it's necessary to leave out the scores of English learners.
Officials are expected to release the latest Adequate Yearly Progress
results next month. The state has a separate accountability program for
schools, called Arizona Learns.
● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at