Aims Up, But Still Falling Short

Test scores put graduation in jeopardy for some Payson juniors

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Payson High School students scored slightly above the state average on the latest AIMS test, but large majorities still failed the math and writing sections.

The results of the spring 2000 AIMS testing were released Wednesday by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan

The average number of sophomores in the state who met or exceeded the standard was 68 percent for reading, 17 percent for math, and 33 percent for writing. By comparison, the average number of Payson sophomores who met or exceeded the standard was 74 percent for reading, 15 percent for math, and 33 percent for writing.

That group, this year's juniors, will be required to pass the writing and reading portions of the test to graduate next year, while the math portion of the test has been deemed too difficult and won't become a graduation requirement until 2004.

Bill Lawson, director of curriculum for the Payson Unified School District, said the district's scores are up slightly over the previous year, but not significantly.

"While we are satisfied that we compare favorably with other districts in the state, it's hard to get real excited when well over half of our students are not meeting minimum standards in writing and math," Lawson said.

Those who did poorly this time around will have several more opportunities to pass the test before graduation, he said, but the slight increase in results from the previous test does not provide much room for optimism.

Keegan, however, said it is unfair to expect large improvements over the 1999 results, and that she is not entirely surprised by this year's scores.

Lawson agrees. "It's hard to move a major population by even a few percentage points," he said.

The test also was given to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders, and to those 11th graders who had previously failed. Again, Payson students performed slightly better than the state average, although Payson's eighth-graders were below the state average in both math and writing.

In reading, 73 percent of Payson third-graders met or exceeded minimum standards. On a statewide basis, 70 percent met or exceeded minimum standards.

Keegan said she was encouraged that third-grade scores were relatively high, showing that Arizona's young students are getting off to a good start. On the other hand, she said she was dismayed at the poor performance turned in by middle school students.

Francis Noyes, a spokesperson for Governor Jane Hull, said parents need not panic yet.

"This tells us what needs attention," Noyes said. "We're in the middle of the process."

Nevertheless, Lawson said he was concerned, especially about those who fell far below the minimum standards.

"The problem is that we don't know how far below individual students are because only individual writing scores have been released," he said. "The state and the testing company are fighting over money so a lot of individual scores are being withheld."

AIMS, which stands for Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, has been under development for five years. The standards were made deliberately stringent, Keegan explained, to encourage higher performances from both teachers and students.

Critics insist that since more than half of all seniors will not graduate in 2002, the test should be scrapped.

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