For some Payson High School seniors, hopes of graduating with the class of 2006 hinge on the results of the AIMS math test they took April 4. AIMS, or Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, is a standardized test designed to measure a student's success in the classroom. Students must pass a reading, writing and math portion of the test in order to receive their high school diploma.
For some, the test is easy. For others, it represents an impossible hurdle between them and graduation day -- the biggest hurdle being the math portion of the test.
The 166 members of the class of 2006 first took the math test as sophomores. Those who passed didn't have to take it again, but many didn't pass. And after four tries, more than 30 seniors still haven't.
Those last 30 seniors took their fifth crack at the AIMS math test this week.
Among the group were some exempt from having to pass because they are enrolled in Special Education.
The students received the AIMS exemption in February 2005 when Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard issued an opinion stating that local school districts have the option of developing 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 need to pass AIMS to graduate.
In following Goddard's ruling, passing AIMS is a requirement for graduation only if it is a goal in the IEP.
If an AIMS standard is not contained in their IEPs, it is not a graduation requirement.
Students required to pass AIMS might not know if they will be allowed to participate in graduation until about a week before the May 25 ceremonies, since a roster of senior math scores will not be calculated and returned to school districts until May 17.
"That doesn't give us or the students much time," Payson High School counselor Judy Michel said.
According to the PHS counseling department, 16 PHS seniors had not passed the AIMS reading test when it was administered March 1. Twenty-two seniors had not passed the writing portion of the test given Feb. 28.
Those students should know the results of reading and writing exams by late April.
Individual students should receive their math scores by June 1.
Seniors may retake the exam and earn a diploma after graduation day, but PHS will not permit seniors who failed the exam to walk in graduation ceremonies.
Members of the class of 2006 are the first who must pass the state-mandated AIMS to graduate.
State education officials predict up to 5,000 Arizona high school students will fail AIMS this year and get no diploma.
Tough math, lots of help
A certainty at PHS and throughout the state is that the biggest hurdle in passing the test is the math section.
Students have complained that the math on the test is difficult.
Senior Tim Dixon is among those who passed the math test the first time he took it as a sophomore.
"I aced it, it was easy," he said.
For those who had not passed the AIMS math test or any other portions of the test at the onset of the 2005-2006 school year, Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval spearheaded a drive to provide last-gasp high tech assistance and tutoring.
After last fall test results were in, Sandoval teamed with Payson Center for Success teacher Tom Stultz to study the students and discover what was hindering their success.
"We've analyzed it inside and out, matching their previous tests and what questions and concepts were missed," he said. "Based on what we learned, we provided computer-based learning, one-on-one tutoring and set a timeline for success."
Financial assistance for this effort has been flowing into Payson and other districts for three years, ever since the Arizona State Board of Education allocated $10 million for academic support tutoring.
In the plan, Payson was among the high schools to apply for and receive $270 in tutoring funds for each student who had not passed AIMS. The money paid for nine hours of tutoring for each student who took advantage of the opportunity.
Of the allocation, $2.1 million was used to supply personalized study guides to each student who had not passed AIMS. Contained in the guide was a graph that showed how the student fared on the last reading, writing or math test taken.
The guides also provided sample AIMS test questions and suggestions for tutors to help students correctly understand the questions and answer them correctly.
Although the tutoring and study guides are available free of charge, some students failed to take advantage of the help.
At a first-day AIMS tutoring session during the Payson Unified School District's 2005 fall break, only a handful of PHS students had picked up their study guides and were participating.