A Modest Proposal

The fact that Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) constitutes 95% of Arizona high school graduation requirements offers a very simple solution to dealing with the recent cutbacks in funding for K-12 schools in Arizona. This solution will reduce the number of students in our public schools while, at the same time, increasing the focus on what students need to qualify for graduation.

All public school students who pass the AIMS tests by the 10th grade should be invited to graduate at the end of that school year rather than spending time in high school for two more years. They have, after all, completed 95% of their graduation requirements. These students should be able to apply to a community college and get a two-year head start on their college education. Then, in the same year they would have graduated high school, they will be prepared to enter a career with an Associate’s Degree or go on to a four-year college to earn their four-year degrees. Of course, those who don’t pass the test until the 11th grade will earn only a one-year head start.

I know some may argue that these students will not be prepared for college and university level work. If that were true, why would the Arizona Department of Education place so much emphasis on these tests if they did not represent 95% of what a graduating student needs to know for success in college or in a career? Clearly, there is little value in coursework not directed at passing AIMS; otherwise it would surely represent more than five percent. Perhaps the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education should consult with ADE to determine how to improve their programs based on AIMS expectations.

By allowing this option for students who have passed the test, teachers, with smaller classes, will be able to focus entirely on preparing students for the AIMS tests. School curricula would no longer need to include chemistry, calculus, Advanced Placement courses, and other higher level courses since the students those courses previously served will have already graduated and moved on to college. The curriculum, rather, can be on how to answer multiple choice questions, how to compose a perfect paragraph in response to a writing prompt, along with a variety of test-taking strategies.

Let’s shift the educational focus to where it should be: how to pass the AIMS tests. All school funding can be directed toward this goal and our schools will be free from the distraction of serving so many students who really have little to gain from their continued enrollment.

In the Tucson area alone, some 200 students were denied graduation even though they had passed all of their required coursework. According to State Superintendent, John Huppenthal, statewide, about 2,000 students have been affected by this policy.

An article in the May 8th edition of the Arizona Daily Star explores the reactions of various educational leaders in the Tucson area.

There’s a level of unfairness about the way in which we’re approaching this test that’s difficult for us to accept as educators, especially when we know it’s not lack of competency on behalf of these students,” TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said. “I have no problem with having a test that determines whether kids are competent to move through the system and onto the next level. But whether AIMS is the test that will let us know that is still a question for me.”

The head of Sunnyside Unified School District – the second-largest in Tucson – does not believe one high-stakes test should determine whether a student receives a high school diploma.

“A true education is going to school for four years, passing your classes and getting a full, comprehensive educational experience,” said Sunnyside Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo. “AIMS should not be the measure of a district saying you are eligible for a diploma because you passed the test.”

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a nonprofit group based in Boston that monitors standardized testing, said these tests should be complementary to student achievement.

“The Arizona Legislature was moving in the right direction by allowing the AIMS score to be augmented by up to 25 percent with students’ course work,” he said. “Now the test is essentially the only thing that matters.”

He said a reasonable mix would be that a quarter or a third of the graduation requirement be based on the test – not 95 percent.

“The notion that the test is worth 19 times as much as the work kids do in school is silly,” Schaeffer said. “That makes no sense.”

About Sharon

**Writing, both personal and professional, has always been an important aspect of my life. **Personally, whether I write from experience or invent fictional characters, I learn so much about myself. Writing has always helped me understand and deal with important events and issues in my life. The blog, "Boxelders and Blackberries" serves this purpose. **My "gravatar" is a boxelder tree, which I hope provides a way to bring together my personal and professional writing. The boxelder tree branches into multiple trunks, each representing a different direction my life and career has taken.
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