Ariz. Senator Targets Graduation Test

By Lynn Olson — January 19, 2005 1 min read

A battle is brewing in Arizona over the fate of the state’s high school graduation tests, which next year’s seniors must have passed to earn a diploma.

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State Sen. Thayer Verschoor, a Republican, planned to introduce a bill last week to drop the tests—known as AIMS, for Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards—as a diploma requirement. Starting with the class of 2006, students must pass the reading, writing, and mathematics sections of the exam to graduate. To date, some 37,000 of them, or more than 57 percent, have not passed the test. Students start taking the test in 10th grade and have five opportunities to retake it before graduation.

“I’ve never been in favor of high-stakes testing,” Mr. Verschoor said. “I think it’s a local-control issue.”

Under his proposal, districts still would have to give the tests to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and to use it as a diagnostic tool.

If parents want the test to be a graduation requirement, “then talk to your school about it,” the senator said.

But Tom Horne, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, said in his annual State of Education Speech on Jan. 5 that he’s committed to keeping the requirement. “We will be as unmovable as the Rock of Gibraltar on this issue,” he said. “Never again will we graduate a student who cannot read his own diploma.”

The state board of education this month approved spending $10 million on tutoring for students who still need to pass AIMS. The state also has made available sample practice tests.

While some education leaders have floated the idea of providing a separate diploma for students who don’t pass the exams, neither the senator nor Mr. Horne supports that notion.

“The debate over AIMS could dominate the 2005 legislative session,” said John Wright, the president of the Arizona Education Association. The teachers’ union has taken no position on Mr. Verschoor’s bill. But it has encouraged the state education agency to find multiple ways, in addition to AIMS, for students to show proficiency on the state’s standards.

A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2005 edition of Education Week