3 English learners share views of state's graduation test
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 17, 2005

Pat Kossan

Three students still struggling to learn English sat down recently to talk about the high school AIMS test.

All are seniors at Esperanza Community Collegial Academy, a north Phoenix charter school on East Bell Road. It's not far from where men, mostly migrants, collect on corners every dawn looking for day work.

The three had a common message: We work with our teachers and each other before, during and after school just to pass our courses. We want to graduate in May and go to college, and the AIMS test is stopping us.

• Jesus Ochoa, 20, lived in Phoenix when he was younger and has been back about a year. He hasn't yet passed any section of the AIMS test. His command of English grew more passionate and expressive as the conversation progressed. He works as a busboy at a Mexican restaurant. He wants to be a teacher.

"I can say I want to be a doctor or a lawyer or la-la-la-la. The thing is, we have to stop because of the AIMS. That's a problem. I don't want to be, my whole life, a busboy. Am I going to be 40 years old getting tips in my hands taking chips and salsa to the tables? I want to finish high school."

"American students, natives, speak very, very good English, and they don't pass. I ask, 'Why don't you pass?' They say, 'I don't get it.' You think I'm going to pass it? No. You're like working three hours and don't pass."

"Give us an opportunity to demonstrate that we can succeed without AIMS. We can go ahead and be something in our life. Nothing like these people on the corner," Ochoa points toward the road and wraps his arms around himself, "cold at 3 a.m. in the morning."

• Sandra Estevané, 17, has been working on her English for about three years. She already passed the AIMS math section and was waiting to get her scores from her October retest. She works at a pizza restaurant. She wants to be a nurse.

"We work very hard to come to school every day. We get up at 6:30 a.m. every day. We come here every day because we want to go to college. We work so we can help our parents. We put in a lot of effort and only because of the AIMS test we can't make it. AIMS is not the only way to demonstrate we can learn English fast. We are succeeding, even if we don't speak English fluently. We are trying."

• Erika Cisneros, 19, began learning English two years ago and hasn't yet passed any section of the AIMS test. She works at a fast-food restaurant, and Estevané helped her find words to express her opinion about the exit exam. She wants to be a radio journalist.

"It is a positive thing if we pass the AIMS test. Maybe we fail the test. We won't get a diploma, and it will take us another year to pass it. We will lose time getting into college without a diploma.

"You're learning English, and the teacher can explain how to do things. In AIMS you have a book, but no one can explain it. Don't give us the AIMS test, please. We come to you every day and are passing our classes. We can do it."