Aims Test Could Be Eliminated Next Year

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The controversial test Arizona students must pass to graduate high school could drop out in the next year.

When state legislators passed the budget last week, they created a task force to examine the merits of Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). The decision will not affect 2009 high school graduates.

The seven-member squad will enlist the expertise of a high school principal, a person with experience assessing students, someone who knows finance, and a businessperson, among others.

The bill directs the group to submit a written report to the state's Board of Education, the governor, and the legislature by June 30, 2009. The task force disintegrates Sept. 15, 2009.

While the task force explores alternatives to AIMS, lawmakers limited testing contracts to one year.

Though the legislature did not erase AIMS, "if you put these things together, there's obviously a little more momentum," said Casey O'Brien, superintendent of Payson Unified School District.

The limitation imposed makes sense for examining other options, he said. But the time constraint adds expense.

Tom Horne, Arizona's state superintendent, predicted that expense would be "horrendously high."

"The whole thing was just completely irrational," Horne said. "I'm at the end of a five-year contract. We were ready to put out a bid for another five years."

O'Brien agreed with Horne that contracts can ease the testing process.

Along with longer contracts come better relationships between the schools and the company, quicker test results, and more developed lines of communication, he said.

"It's not that I don't like AIMS. I think it's a fair assessment of the standards."

O'Brien's issue is the question of whether that type of testing actually proves anything.

"Are we losing the bigger picture of a comprehensive education?" he wondered.

O'Brien said many countries, who perform better than the United States -- are changing their testing from memorize and recall to requiring students to analyze real life scenarios and demonstrate critical thinking.

He said he's heard students testify before lawmakers regarding their multiple attempts at passing AIMS.

"It's not that they're incapable of understanding the content, they have a very difficult time in a testing situation," O'Brien said.

Horne said lawmakers ultimately want to combine a college entrance exam with the high school graduation test.

The task force asks its members to examine states that require its students to take such a test.

Horne said that sort of test would cost $70, as opposed to the current $11 per test.

"I think they're talking about something that ultimately the state won't do."

O'Brien said that ACT, a college entrance exam, is geared toward kids planning for higher education.

"Is that the standard we should really be looking at for every student?" he asked.

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