Arizona high schoolers may soon be rid of having to pass AIMS -- or any standardized test -- to graduate.
On a split vote, the state House on Tuesday gave final approval to scrapping the battery of tests, formally known as Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. While it has been administered for more than a decade, it has been a graduation requirement only since 2006.
HB 2425 now goes to Gov. Jan Brewer.
Aides to Brewer did not respond late Tuesday to questions about what she intends to do with the measure. But Brewer has been at the forefront of pushing to implement new Common Core curriculum in Arizona and to use a test linked to those national standards as a way of seeing how well students here are doing in comparison with their counterparts in other states.
Vince Yanez, executive director of the state Board of Education, said AIMS remains a requirement for current seniors. And he said the board will keep it in place for those who are now juniors, many of whom already have taken the test which is first offered in 10th grade.
But sophomores will be AIMS-free. And, if the state Board of Education eventually agrees, they instead will be administered the PARCC test -- short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- in their senior year.
Yanez said those tests in English and math will effectively serve as a final exam on what students are supposed to have learned. Yanez said while he would expect seniors to be able to pass PARCC, it would technically be possible for students who have otherwise good grades to be able to graduate without actually passing.
The new assessment process also will replace AIMS tests and Sanford 9 exams that are now administered in lower grades.
There was only some opposition during Tuesday's House debate to eliminating use of AIMS as a graduation requirement. What provoked controversy, though, is the question of what will replace it.
Potentially more disturbing some several lawmakers is their view that the Common Core curriculum -- and that nationally standardized test that will go with it -- is an improper intrusion by the federal government into an issue of strictly local concern.
Common Core, in essence, is a list of what students are expected to learn at various points in their education.
For example, fourth graders should be able to determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text. And high schoolers should be capable of interpreting parts of a math expression, such as factors and coefficients.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, acknowledged that the AIMS test has been "dumbed down'' since it was first mandated as a graduation requirement for the Class of 2006. That was designed to keep large numbers of seniors from completing their education.
"But I'm even more embarrassed that we're just going to dissolve it and look to a national organization, saying, in essence, that we can't do it on our own, we're not qualified to do it on our own, so we're going to go ahead and ask the federal government to do it,'' she said. Townsend said this will "put on teachers in the position of having to just go ahead and take orders as to what to teach, rather than to teach according to their local area.''
Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, said lawmakers have little information about PARCC.
"We don't know what that test is going to look like,'' he complained. The details for how to put that together have been left to the state Department of Education.
The fears drew derision from Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, who has been a chief proponent of Common Core. She told her Republican colleagues who control the House that the idea of education reform originated with their spiritual hero, Ronald Reagan.
And Goodale said Common Core originated not from Washington but over many years from governors, school officials and others from around the nation to set standards for reading, writing and math.
"The value of the Common Core did not arise because somebody had an anchovy pizza late at night about two years ago,'' she said.
Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, pointed out that students in lower grades in Arizona schools already are being taught according to the new curriculum what students are being taught now. More to the point, they are no longer being taught according to the AIMS standards.
"If this (AIMS) test remains, we are going to be testing them on something that doesn't align with what's in their classroom right now,'' Mesnard said.
"I will not do that to the kids of this state,'' he continued. "I won't screw over the kids of Arizona to make some kind of political statement.''
But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said lawmakers are giving up on AIMS too quickly.
He agreed it has been "dumbed down.'' And Kavanagh said legislators have previously approved measures to let some student graduate even without passing.
Kavanagh argued, though, that scrapping AIMS at this point means "no accountability,'' especially as the state Board of Education has yet to formally decide to adopt PARCC.
By contrast, Rep. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said he has no problem with eliminating AIMS, saying it has resulted in educators trying to "teach to a test'' rather than using their own judgment to find the best ways to reach their own students. Nor did he think the state would suffer without such a test.
"We put a man on the moon without mandatory testing,'' he said.