As in most schools throughout the state, nine out of 10 Payson High School sophomores who took the AIMS test last spring didn't meet the math standard. None of Payson High's 181 sophomores exceeded the standard and only 10 percent turned in scores that met the standard. Those scores closely mirror the state's averages.
PHS math teacher Lane Stratton said he wasn't surprised by the results.
"The level of the test was for the most part higher than sophomore math," he said."The test was like making a 10-year-old take a driver's test. At 10 years old, he's not going to have a clue about that stuff. It's up to the students whether to take those classes. They're only required to take two years of math to graduate. The AIMS test is looking at four years of math."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham-Keegan said this week that she wants the state to require three years of high school math and she plans to lobby the Legislature to extend the school year.
Payson School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels, who took the test last year, said the math section of the test is tough.
"There were some problems there I could not do and I was a math major," he said.
Payson students fared better in reading than in math -- with 50 percent meeting the standard and 15 percent exceeding the standard. Thirty-five percent of the students failed to meet the standard.
Payson's writing scores, however, were almost as dismal as its math scores. Seventy-five percent of the students who took the test failed to meet the standard, 24 percent met the standard and no students exceeded the standard.
Weissenfels and other school administrators around the state suspect that last year's sophomores didn't take the test seriously because they didn't have to pass it to graduate. The results will, however, be documented on their transcripts.
When this year's sophomores take the test in April, however, it will count. They must pass the AIMS (Arizona Instruments for Measuring Standards) test to graduate.
Students who fail a section of the test will have two more years to pass. Once a student passes a section, he or she doesn't have to take it again. PHS Principal Phil Gille said although the school is offering four math courses -- algebra I, geometry, algebra II, and pre-calculus -- the students who plan to go to college are primarily the ones who are taking all four math courses.
"Not all students were taking all four math courses," Gille said. "The problem is, not all students planned (the college) path for their education. A number of the objectives are more concerned with college-bound students. I'm worried about fine arts and vocational students. I'm worried that students who have good sound career plans will lose opportunities to take other courses."
The AIMS test isn't perfect, Weissenfels said, but Arizona schools need more rigorous curriculum in all three subject areas.
"The state superintendent is right," he said. "We need to require three math credits. However, one of those credits should be practical math."
The AIMS standards, which are mandated by the state Legislature, were developed a number of years ago, he said.
"Through a long-term development process that included many political changes in direction, the standards were finally developed with a great deal of input from teachers," Weissenfels said.
"Our state superintendent, Lisa Keegan, considered a wide range of input in developing the standards, which were finally approved by the state board of education. Once those were approved, a testing company was hired to develop an assessment instrument to evaluate how well the students have learned the standards.
"We, as a school district, have a responsibility to guarantee that every student will be exposed to every tested standard before that student completes his senior year, he said. "That also applies to the parents and students who have the responsibility for learning the material presented."
In light of Payson High's math scores, school officials will be re-evaluating the school's math curriculum.
"We are developing in-service programs in math and writing particularly," the superintendent said. "These should strengthen all the teachers' abilities to teach the standards."
Weissenfel said he believes students will take a different approach to the AIMS test in April "because the stakes are higher -- it counts for graduation."
"That's the trend all over the country," he said. "We've got that kind of testing coming in now and it's going to dramatically change how schools educate children.
"We can no longer successfully educate children by the assembly line method of the '40s. The value systems of the world have changed -- technology, multi-media experiences, the family structure. Kids are facing a very unpredictable world today and we must educate students to live in today's world."