Value Of Aims Testing Still Being Debated

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Although it will be testing business as usual next week at Payson High and other schools around the state, there are educators, parents and school board members who doubt the validity of AIMS and question whether students should be required to pass a single high-stakes test to graduate.

Take a walk down almost any school hallway and you'll hear both students and teachers grumbling about having the AIMS dictated to them by legislators and government big wigs who know very little about the educational process.

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Rim Country Middle School teacher Nicole Ward works with algebra student Tyler Apps on a practice AIMS problem.

Arizona School Board Association research analyst Michael T. Martin is among those who have challenged the tests.

In a 2005 report to ASBA, Martin wrote, "Many AIMS test questions are poorly written, vague or highly subjective.

"A test of this importance should be written so that it is clear what the question is asking and should have one clearly correct answer."

Martin chastises those who wrote AIMS, saying, "It is disheartening to find that a test given such power and scope in Arizona should evidence such casual indifference toward professionals and validity."

A year after Martin's criticism the tests were revised, but there are those in education who continue to question the necessity of the statewide testing.

At Payson High School, principal Roy Sandoval is ambivalent about AIMS-like tests because of the stress, time and money involved in taking and administering them.

"The tremendous amount of money being spent could better be used to enhance intervention programs," he said.

Sandoval believes, however, that the stiff opposition to AIMS is lessening and tests are becoming almost a fact of academic life.

"Whether we like it or not, we are all going to be evaluated by it," he said.

Among those continuing the offensive against AIMS is the William E. Morris Institute for Justice -- private nonprofit organization created to advocate on behalf of low-income Arizonans.

In a report to the Senate Education Committee, the institute concluded that the federal law "No Child Left Behind" does not require a passing grade on a competency test for high school graduation. The state department of education has claimed AIMS is in response to No Child Left Behind mandates.

Also, the institute said there is minimal evidence AIMS is a valid or reliable test. The test has a discriminatory impact on students of color, and leaders in the education testing community have advised against using a single test as a graduation requirement.

A 1999 U.S. Department of Education research -- Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing --ound, "In educational settings, a decision or characterization that will have a major impact on a student should not be made on the basis of a single test score."

In a 2002 Arizona State University study, lead author Aubrey Ameriin said, "In theory, high-stakes tests should work, because they advance the notions of high standards and accountability.

"But students are being trained so narrowly because of it, they are having a hard time understanding general problem solving."

Ameriin, who said she supported high-stakes tests before conducting her research, also said that due to the tremendous pressure teachers feel under AIMS, they are focusing so intently on the test they are neglecting other things equally as important.

AIMS testing suffered a blow earlier this spring when tutorial funds that had been available for any junior or senior who had not passed one or more sections of the test dried up.

Critics pointed to the loss of tutoring funds as simply another example of inadequate planning by legislature and education department officials when AIMS was first instituted in 1999.

Parents, teachers and students also cite the dismal pass rate that prompted state officials to postpone making it a requirement for high school graduation four times as another example of poor planning.

Also, in the early years of growing pains, the state department of education had to find a new contractor for the test after becoming locked in a quarrel over score accuracy and the lag time in reporting scores.

Arizona Sen. Jake Flake two years ago summed up the AIMS controversy in a short speech to a Payson audience by saying, "AIMS was probably the biggest mess the state of Arizona has ever got into."

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