McClellan: AIMS results deceptively positive - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

McClellan: AIMS results deceptively positive

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 9:00 am

AIMS scores are out again.

And?

According to the State Department of Education, 65 percent of our schools are either “A” or “B” schools. While AIMS scores overall remain the same, at the 10th grade level — where the test counts for graduation — scores in reading and math rose. Most interesting, this is the first year the read-by-third grade requirement is enforced, and only 602 third graders could be held back as the school year begins.

Here in the East Valley, three districts — Higley, Chandler and Gilbert — are among the top 10 in the state, and several individual schools had top -10 scores in the state.

In all, pretty successful year for students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents of East Valley schools.

Any concerns?

Well, yes.

First, a little history. When instituted, AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards) tests were much more difficult than they are now, which led to a dumbing down of the exams. Second, for a variety of reasons, the state decided to lower the passing scores on AIMS tests. Finally, at the high school level, passing AIMS as a graduation requirement has been passé for several years, because the state decided to provide an alternative method of “passing” AIMS tests: If kids come close to passing, and take the test each time it’s offered, the kids’ grades in classes can be used to help the kids “pass” the test and graduate.

So AIMS has not really been a graduation requirement for some time, and even the third grade reading requirement is a little illusory, since kids only have to approach being proficient in reading. Only the worst readers are held back, and even then, special needs and ELL kids are excluded from the requirement.

Other concerns? Sure. While two-thirds of our schools graded out as “A” or “B,” only 61 percent of our kids passed their math tests, and less than 80 percent passed reading.

Does that mean that the remaining schools are doing a horrible job in math or does it mean that in general, our kids struggle in math? Don’t know, but it’d be useful to know.

A final concern is this one: AIMS is now history. Maybe. Depending.

Theoretically anyway, the AIMS tests are to be replaced next year by a Common Core-aligned test, one that will be given online and provide immediate feedback to teachers and schools. AIMS is paper and pencil, and schools don’t get results into the end of the school year or even into the summer.

So why “maybe” and “depending”?

If you’ve been paying attention to the political campaign, you know the answer: Common Core.

Almost all of the Republican candidates for governor and one of the two state superintendent of schools candidates want to get rid of Common Core, mainly because of what they say is federal government control of our state’s education, which is debatable, to say the least. (Interestingly enough, though, the two district superintendents featured at a state presentation of successful schools identified teaching the much tougher Common Core standards as a key to their districts’ remarkable increases in AIMS achievement.)

So depending on who our governor is in 2015, Common Core might be history, leaving our schools, our kids and our testing in limbo. Not to mention our teachers, who've spent the last few years implementing the Common Core standards, and who might have to junk those next year and start over again with what no one seems to know.

The state is now taking bids for a Common Core test, so I guess the kids will take some sort of online test in 2015. But after that, who knows?

Equally problematic is the online nature of the test. In part, the test is online to provide some interactive questions, and to provide a quick turnaround for teachers and schools.

Got a problem there. Many of our schools lack the bandwidth to conduct those tests online, and many, many others do not have the computers to have their entire student body take those tests in a timely manner.

So what do we do with a test that may not last more than a year, with schools that either don’t have the computers or don’t have the bandwidth? And what will we do when those results come back next year, guaranteed to be much lower, given how much more demanding the standards and tests are?

I guess we’ll find out. But for now, we can enjoy the success our schools have shown out here in the East Valley, a success that might have a bit of illusion behind it, but a success nevertheless.

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