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5:04 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

Local school officials split on AIMS decision

PRESCOTT – Tri-city educators' reaction Friday to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime A. Molera's plan to fix AIMS ranged from frustrated to hopeful.

On Monday, the state Board of Education will discuss Molera's proposal to delay the graduation requirement by four years, to 2006, and let districts set up alternatives for students who can't pass the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test.

"Educators are tired of all the changes from the state department when it comes to statewide testing," said Linda Ryan, Prescott Unified School District curriculum and testing coordinator.

Ryan continues to favor the standards and believes that AIMS testing should continue. She likes the alternative for students who aren't good test takers. However, she's "a bit disappointed" that the plan would delay the graduation requirement yet again.

"What I'm afraid of is that parents, teachers and students will think this test means nothing," Ryan said, "but I think the test should be part of a student's achievement profile."

Ryan is worried that all the hard work teachers put into aligning curriculum and helping students do their best on AIMS tests might be for naught. She sees educators' immediate challenge as being to encourage 11th and 12th graders to show up for the AIMS reading, writing and math retest Oct. 22 through 24.

"We finally have some consistency with the standards, and we need to continue with this process whether it's a graduation requirement or not," she said. "Other states have state standards and state tests, and we have to keep the credibility in there."

Some praised Molera's approach.

"It seems to me that we're heading in a more reasonable direction" said David Newman, Humboldt Education Association president.

"They're focused more on the standards and hopefully less on the test and are providing alternative avenues for kids who were going to fail the test."

Newman suspects that AIMS will be around for a while, and Molera is trying to find a way to make it work.

Prescott Education Association President Janie Phare called AIMS alternate testing "an excellent idea." She noted that the Prescott district has aligned its academic standards at each grade level with state standards and is adopting appropriate textbooks.

Repeated corrections frustrate other educators.

"In some ways, I'm disappointed," said Chino Valley High School Principal David Perey. "They decide on a direction and then keep changing what they're doing, so it's difficult for schools to plan any consistent effort in any one direction."

Perey maintained that a better way would have been to keep testing but adjust the cut scores so that essentially every student passed and then over time raise the cut scores.

"What we found is that unless students are required to take the test and have a reason for doing so, they won't take (it), so you're really throwing away state money and not getting accurate data," he said.

Teacher performance pay that's tied to student AIMS scores is another concern.

"If you take away the incentive for students to take the test and to do well, that affects your ability to determine how well you're doing in terms of the standards," Perey said.

Further, Perey said that postponing the AIMS implementation for four years "doesn't help," but agrees with Molera that there needs to be more than one way to achieve a diploma.

While the state has not released results from the most recent AIMS exams this spring, most Arizona high school students who took the 2000 test failed.

So far, the state has spent $12.5 million on implementing AIMS.

Contact Louise Koniarski at lkoniarski@prescottaz.com