Test Switcheroo Befuddles Board

‘Is AIMS going away? And if so, when?’
James Quinlan
School board member

‘Is AIMS going away? And if so, when?’ James Quinlan School board member Photo by Pete Aleshire. |

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Test.

Test.

Test.

The state has decreed that school funding, teacher salary, layoffs — everything depends on standardized test scores.

Just one itsy bitsy problem: No one quite knows which test to use.

The Payson School Board last week groped with the bafflements and contradictions of the rush to overhaul curriculum, school funding formulas and teacher evaluations based on test scores — without having either a final form of the test or money to set up a potentially expensive testing system.

The issue came up as the board reviewed proposed changes in its system for evaluating teachers. The Legislature has decreed that at least 50 percent of a teacher’s job evaluation must depend on whether students improve their test scores.

One hitch: No test.

For the past decade, Arizona has administered the AIMS test to evaluate basic skills. The AIMS test started out as a minimum standards test to make sure that all high school graduates could read, write and calculate. So many students bombed the original version, that the state made changes almost every year to avoid the carnage that would ensue if large numbers of students who passed all their classes were nonetheless denied their diplomas.

Gradually, the AIMS test morphed into a way to compare schools throughout the state. Gov. Jan Brewer has now proposed linking a portion of school funding to student test scores, with extra money for schools with high scores and schools whose students get better from one year to the next. The rankings count double the scores of the bottom 25 percent of students.

However, the state has now adopted new, federal academic standards known as Common Core. Alas, the AIMS test doesn’t match that curriculum. Instead, schools are supposed to change to the national PARCC test, a comprehensive battery of tests in core subjects administered in almost every grade.

Except districts don’t yet have the tests — or the money to administer them. The plan originally called for a computerized, statewide assessment system that would administer, track and score the tests online. But the state hasn’t set up the system and the districts don’t have the computer labs and facilities to administer the tests.

Still, new state laws require school boards to this year overhaul their teacher evaluation systems to incorporate student test scores.

The bewilderment broke the surface last Monday as Superintendent Ron Hitchcock discussed the state-mandated changes, which require the district to tell teachers deemed substandard in January that they could lose their jobs by June — based in part on the still unsettled student test system.

“Is AIMS going away?” asked board member James Quinlan, a longtime teacher and currently a professor at Gila Community College, “and if so, when?”

Hitchcock answered carefully. “The intent is there will be a new evaluation system in place that is not named. They know AIMS is no longer set up to evaluate the (Common Core) standards. The latest I heard is that PARCC will offer a paper and pencil test. But they’re beginning to work on Plan B, because people are asking whether we should pull the plug on AIMS when we don’t have the new assessment ready to go.

“If the state of Arizona says we’re using AIMS, we’re using AIMS — so the kids don’t get any more confused than our teachers are.”

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