Aims Reshaping Classes, Study Habits

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Payson High School sophomores LeeAnn Owens and Dustin Sack plan to go to college, and they've been hitting the math books so they'll be able to get there.


LeeAnn, Dustin and the rest of the high school sophomores in the state are the first students in Arizona history who must pass the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test to graduate from high school. Local sophomores will take the test for the first time this May.


If they fail their least favorite subject, they will have to continue taking the math section of the AIMS test until they pass it to earn their diplomas.


Don Heizer, head guidance counselor at the high school, said students who earn Cs or lower in their math classes are required to repeat those classes for credit to advance to the next level. The same policy applies to science classes.


Now, with the addition of the AIMS test, math students with C grades or lower will be assigned to supplemental math classes as well.


It's something sophomores around the state are facing for the first time this year.


LeeAnn, who wants to be a secondary school teacher with an emphasis on subjects such as history and government, said, "I don't like math. I want to do just enough to look good on my college application."


Dustin wants to be an aeronautical engineer. "I'm going to need as much math as I can get," he said. "It's not that I like math -- I try my best at it."


LeeAnn has already had to retake an algebra class and Dustin had to make up a math class this past summer.


Dustin said he thinks he's in the high middle range of his math class, but that might not be good enough to pass the AIMS test.


During a practice run last year, sophomores across the state tested poorly on the AIMS test, but the results didn't change their graduation plans.


For this year's sophomores, the test is for real.


Payson High School Principal Phil Gille said there will be students who try hard and fail, and he's not looking forward to withholding anyone's diploma who makes the effort, but not the grade.


To help students succeed, high school officials are adding classes in writing, reading and math to the curriculum and are providing tutors for additional after-school math instruction -- the area of the test that proved most troublesome for students last year.


The middle school also has made some changes. Heizer said that in the past, algebra was split into two classes at Rim Country Middle School.


"They taught half one year, half the other," he said. "They've now changed that practice. They're teaching it all in one year."


Students advancing from the middle school to high school who need help in writing will have to take an extra writing class their freshman year, Gille said. And he is predicting that half the freshman class will be taking that extra writing instruction.


"We'll have two or three reading classes in the freshman year," he said. "If they're starting to struggle with math, sophomores and juniors will have an Applied 1 and an Applied 2 class that will teach the skills without an emphasis on algebra."


"The students are going to try with everything they have," Gille said. "If it's just one kid who tries and fails, it's criminal."


It will be the students who want to go on to vocational careers rather than college who will be hurt most by the AIMS test, Gille said.


"It's the poor kid that struggles in math that will have to take an additional class to prepare him for the test."


Heizer said the additional math and English classes some students will have to take will not have an impact on extracurricular activities.


"It will impact the electives like the fine arts and vocational areas," he said.


LeeAnn said she will have to work extra hard, however, to keep up her grades so that she can continue to play sports.


"Now I'm going to put more time into studying for this test," she said. "I think a lot of people are going to get burned out. I think there should be a test to find out where you're at and what you want to do. Not everyone's the same."


LeeAnn said she took classes in Spanish, computers and beginning acting last year.


Heizer said those are the classes that are going to get edged out.


"School's not going be fun," LeeAnn said.


The AIMS test was given to students in third-, fifth- and eighth-grades this past week. Heizer said it was one more way for school officials to find out what the district needs.


"The results of the test will show what's needed for the individual," he said. "It's based on the benchmark for what they need to know, but it won't preclude them going on to the next grade."


Heizer said he and other school officials have conducted a series of evening meetings for eighth-grade students and their parents to discuss student registration and scheduling for the next school year.


"We're coming up with a four-year plan for every student," he said.


School officials said they are meeting one-on-one with students and their parents to talk about their four-year plan and their freshman year electives.


"Right now, we're offering after-school and Saturday reviews for writing and math," Gille said. "There's a small cost and they can sign up at the bookstore.


"We've done a lot to give the kids not only the curriculum, but some extra help to make sure they have an opportunity to graduate. I don't know what's going to happen to schools that haven't done that. For the poor kids who are doing their best, who will not be able to graduate, it's criminal -- that's the only word I can think of."


For more information about the AIMS test, visit the Arizona Department of Education Web site at: www.ade.state.az.us.

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