More than 200 Payson High School seniors have passed the required AIMS tests. But seven seniors must successfully complete the "make or break" competency exams or they will not be allowed to graduate with the class of 2006, school officials revealed this week.
The seven are among the estimated 18,000 seniors throughout the state who have been unable to pass all three portions -- writing, reading and math -- of AIMS during five testing sessions over the past three years.
State education officials predict that up to 5,000 Arizona high school students will fail AIMS this year and get no diploma.
Earning "Exceeds the Standards" or "Meets the Standards" grades to receive a diploma is now a graduation requirement for the class of 2006 and all that follow.
The writing portion of AIMS will be administered Feb. 28, the reading on March 1 and the math on April 4.
A certainty at PHS and throughout the state is that the biggest hurdle in passing the test is the math section.
Students have complained the math was difficult and irrelevant to their lives
But, 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 have not yet passed AIMS math or other portions of the test, Payson High School principal Roy Sandoval is spearheading 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 will now provide computer-based learning, one-on-one tutoring and set a time line for success."
Sandoval also plans to meet with each of the student's parents to solicit their help.
Although just seven seniors are affected by the AIMS graduation mandate, there are actually 31 members of the Class of 2006 who have not passed the test.
However, 24 of those are not required to pass because they are special education students with Individual Education Plans (IEP) or are English Language Learners (ELL).
Last month, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ruled that English-language learners do not have to pass the state's exit exam to graduate until state schools fully fund ELL programs. Estimates are that would exempt the students through 2007.
Some special education students received an 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 IEP objectives would still have 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.
So, there are a handful of special education and ELL seniors at PHS who do not have to pass AIMS to receive a diploma.
The inability of regular education students to pass the AIMS tests has some administrators, teachers and even fellow students scratching their heads.
"There has been plenty of help and tutoring, but some (seniors) haven't (taken advantage of) it," a student, who asked not to be identified, said, "When they don't pass, they say it (the test) is too hard or they blame their teachers."
Student assistance began to flow in about three years ago when 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.
$2.1 million of the allocation was used to supply personalized study guides to every student who had not passed AIMS. Contained in the guide is a graph that shows how the student fared on the last reading, writing or math test taken.
The guides also provide sample AIMS test question and clues on helping students correctly understand the questions and answer them correctly.
"The guides are a huge help," Sandoval said.
After students finished the practice questions in the guides, they were referred to an Internet site for more practice and test tips.
Students who failed the 2005 fall tests were able to print new individual student guides from the Internet.
Although the tutoring and study guides were available free of charge, some students failed to take advantage of the help.
At a first-day AIMS tutoring session during the school district's 2005 fall break, only a handful of PHS students had picked up their study guides and were participating.
Sandoval admitted his frustration. "It (the tutoring) is not mandatory, but it is in their best interest."
State education officials estimate that only about 6,000 of a potential 20,000 students took advantage of the free tutoring.
Early this month, during Horne's annual State of Education address, the state superintendent announced an AIMS hotline (1-866-688-AIMS) that parents can call to get their children scheduled for tutoring.
Although passing AIMS, as a graduation requirement remains a controversial topic around the state, high stakes testing could be around for a long time. At most of Horne's public appearances since his election, he has told audiences he is "100 percent" committed to continuing the testing. He argues the test improves achievement and motivates students, parents and teachers.