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2:10 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

High-stakes tests offer accountability, but ...<BR>Local educators say students need <BR>more options to prove competency

Local educators agree that accountability is important and that more than one avenue should exist through which students can prove competency for graduation.

The state Senate's K-12Education Committee on Wednesday voted to repeal the requirement that Arizona high school students pass the AIMS test to graduate.

According to a story by The Associated Press, the vote sends Sen. Thayer Verschoor's, R-Gilbert, legislation (SB 1069) to the full Senate where senators could consider it as early as next week.

If the Senate approves the bill, the House also must approve it. If neither entity changes the bill, the governor would then have to sign it for it to become law. If either entity changes it, a conference committee must come up with a compromise before the governor can sign or veto it.

The AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test measures students' mastery of the state standards in reading, writing and math. Every student has five chances to pass the test. Under current legislation, this year's juniors are the first to have to pass it to graduate.

Linda Nelson, superintendent of the Chino Valley Unified School District, said members of the Arizona School Administrators (ASA) association want passage of the AIMS to remain one way in which students can earn graduation eligibility, but want to add other options.

Those would apply to students with special education needs, students who move to Arizona later in their high school careers and students who take and fail the AIMS test at all five opportunities.

Such options, she said, maintain "the seriousness of the test while at the same time being more responsive to the real world of test takers."

In the ASA's proposed options, students who take and fail the AIMS test five times must take 75 hours of remediation their senior year, must maintain a "C" average in all classes and must have a 95 percent attendance rate.

The ASA's proposal includes special provisions for students who move to Arizona late during their high school careers and don't have all five opportunities to take the test and for students who meet the goals of their individualized education programs.

Nelson said Mike Smith, ASA policy analyst, attended the committee hearing Wednesday and said Verschoor planned on adding the ASA proposals to the legislation's language.

Jim Nelson (no relation to Linda Nelson), superintendent of Mayer Unified School District, said he has mixed feelings about the possibility of a law that would repeal the AIMS requirement. "I'm in favor of high-stakes testing," he said. "I'm not in favor of (the AIMS) being the only criteria."

Educators should follow some standard for measuring success, he said, but students should be allowed realistic opportunities to graduate. Legislators' constant shifting of AIMS requirements sends mixed signals to students, he said. "Juniors who are getting ready to take the test are wondering, 'do I take this seriously or don't I?'"

Kevin Kapp, superintendent of the Prescott Unified School District, said, "Our schools should be accountable for what students have learned by the time they leave high school. But basing that accountability on one test does not make sense and should be reviewed."

Dean Slaga, dean of instruction and curriculum at Humboldt Unified School District, said he doesn't believe that SB 1069 will pass.

He says a set level of accountability should exist for educators and schools, as should a realistic assessment of each student's progress. "Accountability is a good thing if it's done right," he said.

Taking the AIMS away completely would hurt local districts on the federal front, Slaga said, as schools still will have to meet No Child Left Behind criteria. "The rubber hasn't hit the rug," he said. "There hasn't been a kid denied a diploma because he can't pass the AIMS."

Once that happens, he said, possibly to a student in the class of 2006, "things will heat up."

Although Senate President Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, did not return The Daily Courier's phone calls Thursday, he has said before that he does not favor getting rid of the AIMS test.

He told the AP that he will fight efforts to retreat from the graduation requirement but that he supports refining the test itself.

Contact the reporter at heller@prescottaz.com