by Gary W. Moore, Ph.D., Adjunct professor, Northern Arizona University
Your headline of September 29, 2000 which shouted out that "AIMS up, but still falling short" was no surprise to those who have followed the AIMS debate over the last several years. AIMS has been so politically hot that neither the ADE nor the Legislature have been willing to listen to the experts.
Years ago, Dr. Gene Glass, Associate Dean for Research at ASU's College of Education, who is a nationally known expert, (The Arizona Republic, 11/5/98, "Teacher Union Lauds Standards") stated it simply, when asked about whether the standards will improve the quality of education in Arizona. He replied, of course not. Dr. Glass went on to say that ... state officials would get more for their money and effort if they put their energy into improving teacher training and salaries. Who was listening then, two years prior to the millions of dollars spent?
The simple reality is that the AIMS test, especially the Math portion, has little or no validity as a standard.
Why does the AIMS lack validity? It's fairly simple. Say you take a class in Basketweaving 101 and at the end of the semester, your final exam is the test from Watercolor 101. Will your performance on this test reflect your ability in basketweaving? Of course not. The test would have no validity to the objectives being tested. Would the students complain? You bet they would. You can also bet that the newspaper headlines would scream out "97 percent fail basketweaving standards, graduation in doubt."
How does the existing AIMS test lack validity? From kindergarten through 12th grade over the last decade, different objectives, although there is an overlap, and standards, as well as curriculum and instruction have been implemented with our children. Now, the AIMS test comes along and the students must meet this new standard. However, this new standard has little or no validity to what has been studied by our children! They're getting a Watercolor 101 final exam but they've been studying basketweaving for the last ten years.
Where should ADE and the Legislature be spending their money? Of course, the only place that makes sense from an educational evaluation perspective is in providing teachers and students with the curriculum and instructional support to adapt to the new rules of the game. Once the schools have in place their revised curriculum which is aligned to state standards, then testing like the AIMS increases in validity. You still have to be careful that when you test sophomores, for instance, that you're testing performance based on classes and standards they've had or you move right back into the lack of validity argument.
I don't buy the sudden concern for our children by ADE and NCS officials. It's definitely politically correct, but I wish all of this energy had been applied to making a valid test during the test development stage. Now, it comes across as being hollow.
I'm not against a standards test to measure success for our students. I'm against tests and testing procedures that make absolutely no common sense, let alone no sense from an educational evaluation perspective.
I also question the motivation of the National Computer Systems, Inc. (NCS) who was hired by ADE to develop the AIMS testing. You would think they would have qualified experts who would have told ADE the basics about test development and implementation.
Also, do we all know that the owner of NCS is Pearson? It is the world's premier educational publisher whose leading brands include: Addison Wesley, Longman, Allyn & Bacon, Prentice-Hall and Scott Foresman. I hate to be suspicious, but I do sense a conflict of interest, and it's spelled $$$$$.
Let's hope that the Legislature has more concern for the future of our children than what the ADE and NCS have shown them over the last few years. ADE and NCS have flunked their AIMS test. Talk is cheap, as they say, and we've had plenty. Now it's time to test the validity of, actions speak louder than words. It seems like it's left in the hands of the Legislature.
Can they do what's in the best interests of our children? Hopefully, they can be unbiased, put the concerns of our children first, and not buy the politically correct line of ADE and NCS.