Tweak AIMS a bit to ensure its success
Arizona Daily Star
Mar. 23, 2005
Susan Carlson is executive director of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition

In 2006, Arizona will join the growing ranks of states that require students to pass a standardized exam to graduate from high school. But our students aren't the only ones facing a serious test.

The state as a whole also will be tested, to ensure that the high-stakes AIMS exam is implemented with the utmost integrity and fairness. It is a test Arizona cannot afford to fail.
The Arizona Business and Education Coalition supports AIMS as a graduation requirement, contingent on the resolution of several key issues, including testing exemptions, accommodations and student supports.
The coalition is a statewide organization that seeks consensus on key education issues from leaders of the business and education communities in Arizona.
Consensus on AIMS was difficult to come by. Coalition members spent long hours debating the merits, challenges and necessity of the exam.
In the end, coalition members agreed that AIMS is an important step in improving education in our state but believe changes must be made to keep the test firm, fair and accountable.
First, some special-education students may not be able to pass the AIMS exam, regardless of the tutoring, accommodations, or testing attempts that are available.
These students should not have to pass the test to graduate, as long as their Individual Education Plans - specialized learning plans that are put together with the input of parents and teachers - reflect that the particular student could not be expected to pass all or part of the test.
Second, students who are learning English should have every opportunity to pass the test (in English) and should have available to them certain research-based accommodations that will facilitate demonstration of mastery. These accommodations include:
● More time to finish the test, where applicable
● Translation of certain technical terms on math and science questions
● Translation of certain test directions
These accommodations are designed to ensure that specific skills are tested - math skills on a math test, for instance. All students would still have to pass an English reading and writing test to graduate.
In addition, students who move to Arizona and have passed a similar test in another state should not have to pass a second exam to graduate. The State Board of Education should be given the latitude to waive the AIMS requirement in such cases.
Finally, the coalition believes all students must be given adequate support to enable them to pass the exam. AIMS tutoring should be expanded to meet the needs of students who are still working to pass AIMS even into a fifth year. Educators and parents must push students to take advantage of this tutoring and take every testing opportunity offered.
The success of AIMS and of Arizona's public-high-school reform will require all of us to engage in the AIMS discussion without acrimony, in a spirit of doing what is right for the state and more important, what is in the best interests of students.
If we want our graduates to be prepared for the work force or postsecondary educational options, they must have learned the foundations. Maintaining the momentum for education reform will require making serious, consequential choices and sticking with them, even when the choices are difficult. AIMS is one of those choices.
Contact Susan Carlson through