Local reaction to the Arizona State Board of Education's recent decision to combine the AIMS and Stanford 9 tests is cautious.
The combined math and reading test, which has yet to be devised, will only be administered to elementary and middle school students. It will not affect the requirement for high school students to pass the AIMS test to graduate beginning in 2006.
"This is a victory for Arizona's public school students," Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said. "When this new test takes effect, there will be more time devoted to classroom instruction."
Payson Unified School District Herb Weissenfels is less optimistic.
"We discussed that a great deal at the (Arizona Superintendents Association) legislative conference the other day, and we had some real concerns," Weissenfels said. "I was a little surprised that the state board actually approved going ahead with it."
Among the concerns Weissenfels highlighted:
- "We're supposed to be very data oriented to comply with NCLB (the federal No Child Left Behind program)," he said. "Can we get the same level of data when you run these two tests together?
"I like the idea of less test time -- everybody likes that. But, if we have to be accountable for NCLB standards, will one test give us enough data to satisfy that need?"
- "We have changed so frequently the testing and the accountability for graduation over the last 10 years in the state of Arizona, we don't want to see that change again," Weissenfels said, "-- throw out everything we've got all of a sudden and say everything we've been building up to is not true now. "We're afraid this is leading to that possibility also."
Weissenfels believes the decision may carry Arizona into uncharted waters.
"(The state board) claims there are 17 states looking into doing this, but what they didn't tell you is that nobody's done it yet -- nobody has such a test yet," he said.
"Now your testmakers say it can be done. A lot of us are not saying they can't, but we're not totally convinced yet."
Weissenfels indicated that the PUSD teachers he has talked to feel the same way.
"The teachers, for the most part, agree:" he said. "We spend an awful lot of time in testing. Let's reduce it. On the other hand, can we get the appropriate amount of information out of it?
"If we can, wonderful, but we'll wait and see if we can actually do that."
Horne dismisses the concerns.
"Arizona will lose none of the benefits of comparing students to their peers throughout the country, but more emphasis will be placed on Arizona's content standards, which are highly regarded nationally," he said. "This will also increase the opportunity for students to learn the content for which they're being held responsible in order to graduate from high school."
The Stanford 9 is a norm-referenced test given to students in grades 2-9 in the spring. It compares one child's score against the scores of a national group of children in the same grade.
AIMS, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, is a standards-based exit exam. This means exam questions are written to test students on information that educators believe they must know.
AIMS tests according to state, rather than national, standards. The test, which measures proficiency in writing, reading and math, is currently given to all Arizona students in grades three, five, eight and 10.
The AIMS test has been controversial since its inception in 1999 when nine of 10 sophomores failed the math section. Despite retooling and relaxation of the deadline requiring high school students to pass from 2001 to 2006, the test remains controversial.
About half the states either have or are phasing in exit exams like AIMS.
The Department of Education will now ask testing companies to write an exam combining the two tests that can either be implemented in the 2004-05 school year, or be partially field-tested that year with full implementation in 2005-06. The state board will make the final decision on when to implement the test.