Future Of Aims Mandate Questioned

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There were no free passes at Payson High School for sophomores, special education students and students who had not passed the AIMS test.

Despite rumors that the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards graduation requirement would be repealed and special education students no longer had to take the test, all were required to take the writing portion of the test Tuesday and the reading portion the following day.

"Everyone took it who was required to do so," assistant principal Tim Fruth said. "We also had a lot of juniors take it who had already met the standards and wanted to improve their score to exceed the standards."

Students who exceed the standards in all three testing areas could earn an Arizona Board of Regents High Honors Tuition Waiver Scholarship good at any of the state's three universities.

The exact dollar value of the waivers has not yet been determined.

The math portion of the test will be given April 12.

A passing, or "meets the standards" score on all three portions of the AIMS is required for graduation from high school beginning with the class of 2006.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, however, issued an opinion Feb. 9 that said local school districts can develop their own graduation requirements for special education students.

Goddard's opinion was in response to a question from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who asked if special education students who met their Individual Education Plan (IEP) objectives, would still have to pass AIMS to graduate.

According to PHS counselor Don Heizer, the school is awaiting a directive from the state department of education on exactly what Goddard's statement means for special education students.

For the individual students, it could boil down to the criteria in their IEPs An IEP is an individual students curriculum and goals. If a minimum grade on the AIMS was a goal in the IEP, then it would be a requirement for graduation.

If an AIMS standard is not contained in their IEPs, if would not be a graduation requirement.

In Payson and around the state, the special education students took the test, but may not be required to pass it to graduate.

AIMS stirs long-time debate

The debate on whether AIMS should be a requirement for graduation has been debated since the inception of the test.

On a Phoenix radio show Thursday morning, Gov. Janet Napolitano admitted she was lukewarm to the test, saying she favored academic accountability and students mastering the curriculum, but opposed a single, high-stakes test like AIMS.

The status of the test turned murky Feb. 16 when a Senate Education Committee voted 5-3 to repeal the AIMS graduation requirement.

The vote sent the AIMS bill (SB 1069) to the full senate last week.

According to Kayce Hosheins, assistant to Gilbert Republican Sen. Thayer Verschoor who sponsored the legislation, the bill has not yet been scheduled to be heard on the senate floor.

"It could be next week," Hosheins said.

Verschoor said he wants to keep the test as a diagnostic tool but is opposed to an all-or-nothing state mandate like AIMS.

In an effort to help the students who have not passed the test, the state recently funded a $10 million tutoring program that many PHS students took advantage of.

Following this week's testing at PHS, Fruth said the feedback he was receiving from students was favorable.

"The kids felt pretty good about how they did," he said.

Sophomore Crystal Ashing had mixed feelings about AIMS.

"The writing portion was actually too easy," she said. "The reading was challenging, but it was too long (of a test)."

Ashing said she realized the upcoming math test is widely considered the toughest of the three AIMS portions.

Not passing AIMS could derail the graduation hopes of thousands of students.

Last spring, only 39 percent of the sophomores statewide passed the math portion.

With the attorney general saying special ed students don't have to pass AIMS, the governor not wholeheartedly supporting it and several legislators trying to do away with it, there are few certainties with an exam that could derail the graduation hopes of thousands of Arizona students.

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