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Court rejects challenge to AIMS test

PHOENIX — A judge has rejected a legal challenge that argued that it is unfair to make Arizona high school students pass the curriculum standards-based “AIMS” test to get a diploma.

A lawsuit filed in 2006 said the state failed to provide programs and services necessary for “economically disadvantaged” students to meet the state’s academic standards. The class-action suit filed by the William J. Morris Institute for Justice on behalf of students also contended that the state’s school funding system is arbitrary.

The suit cited the Arizona Constitution’s mandate for a “general and uniform” public school system.

Judge John Buttrick of Maricopa County Superior Court took the case under advisement after holding a 12-day trial in June.

His ruling said the challengers “provided some evidence” that poor children start out academically behind other children and continue in that status “because the state does not provide enough resources necessary and appropriate to close the achievement gap.”

But Buttrick ruled against the challengers, saying they failed to prove a relationship between unavailability of programs and students’ failures to pass the test.

The ruling was filed Wednesday and announced Thursday by the Department of Education, headed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

Horne, an AIMS test supporter who contends it motivates students to do better in school, called the ruling a loss for “forces of mediocrity.”

The challengers’ chief attorney, Ellen Sue Katz, did not immediately return a call for comment on the ruling.

The lawsuit sought an injunction prohibiting the state from requiring students to pass the test to graduate.

Passing AIMS, short for Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, became mandatory as a graduation requirement in the class of 2006. The test includes math, reading and writing sections.

A last-minute addition to the current state budget passed in June creates a state task force to consider testing alternatives to AIMS.

That could lead to a possible revamp or replacement of the test, or even its elimination as a high-stakes graduation requirement.

Separately, the Legislature in May renewed a program that lets high school students augment their AIMS scores with points from good grades on required courses.

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