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Tue, Aug. 20

Local districts see student improvement on AIMS test

PRESCOTT — Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Kapp has evaluated the validity of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) since its inception.

In fact, Kapp's district involved some of its representatives in the original writing of the AIMS – a criteria-referenced test that measures each student against a set of state standards in mathematics, reading, and writing.

So was he surprised when PUSD students scored above Yavapai County and state scoring levels in all three sections of AIMS for 2003? Well, not exactly.

"That's the pattern. It's happened in the past," Kapp said of PUSD's third-, fifth-, eighth-, and 10th-grade students' performances on AIMS the past several years. "Out of 12 areas of testing this year, we increased in six and decreased in six from last year."

PUSD raised its scores in third-grade math (from 75 percent meeting or exceeding the standard in 2002 to 81 percent in 2003); fifth-grade math (65 percent to 67 percent) and reading (76 to 79); eighth-grade math (36 to 37) and writing (59 to 63); and 10th-grade writing (73 to 75).

PUSD saw drops in third-grade reading (90 percent to 85 percent) and writing (94 to 88); fifth-grade writing (82 to 74); eighth-grade reading (76 to 72); and 10th-grade math (56 to 50) and reading (87 to 70, the district's largest decline).

Kapp is most concerned about the district's math scores, although the county is only at a 39 percent passing rate. Half of last year's PUSD sophomores still need to meet or exceed the standard on the AIMS math portion.

Kapp said the math test must focus more on practical and computational skills, as well as problem solving, rather than higher-level subjects such as algebra and geometry.

"The math sections of AIMS need to be revised, at least at the eighth- and 10th-grade levels," said Kapp, a former math teacher. "Fifty percent of our sophomores passed math, but that number has to come up."

The class of 2006 is the first one that must pass AIMS in order to graduate, under an Arizona State Board of Education mandate. Therefore, this year sophomore AIMS scores will receive more scrutiny.

"Two years ago we didn't have graduation to hold over their heads," Kapp said. "For five or six years we've been working to align the curriculum with academic standards. We're not afraid to teach to the standards. We're ahead of the curve a little bit."

Last year, 94 percent of PUSD third-graders met or exceeded the state standard, though that number dropped to 88 percent in 2003. The latter figure remains 10 points above the county average, but if a decline occurs again next year, PUSD may want to keep a closer eye on the situation.

When analyzing AIMS scores, Kapp not only looks at the students who are performing at and above the standard, but those pupils who either fall far below or approach the standard.

In math alone, PUSD is ahead of the state's curve, but the district still has work to do. Of 316 district third graders who took the test, 15 percent were at the standard, while just 4 percent fell far below. Of 352 district fifth-graders, 29 percent were at the standard and 4 percent fell far below. Of 382 PUSD eighth-graders, 44 percent were at the standard, but 19 percent fell far below, 20 points more than the state average. And of 349 10th-graders, 35 percent fell far below while 16 percent were at the standard.

"We need to make sure we have the energy and funds committed to remediation needs," Kapp said.

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