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Review could lead to AIMS test changes or replacement

PHOENIX – State education officials are launching a review of the AIMS test and whether it should be expanded, replaced or lose its current high stakes status for high school students.

One proposal to be considered is replacing the high school AIMS test with a national college exam. Another newly broached idea is to continue to use AIMS as a high school graduation test but adding a higher-level version to gauge high school graduates’ college and career readiness.

Also on the table: whether to keep requiring Arizona high school students to pass the math, reading and writing exam to get a diploma. AIMS is short for Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards.

A seven-member task force appointed Monday by the state Board of Education will conduct the review, which is required under a law passed by the Legislature last spring. Gov. Janet Napolitano backed the plan.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne cautioned fellow board members that they shouldn’t draw any policy conclusions from the Legislature’s mandate for a review.

The legislative action came in the middle of the night in a surprise move that the chief legislative proponent kept secret from Horne. The superintendent is a defender of the AIMS test as an accountability measure for students, teachers and schools.

However, other board members said they welcome the review, especially the opportunity to consider whether Arizona does enough to determine students’ readiness to move on to higher education or the work world.

The high school AIMS test is essentially a test for 10th-graders and the state must ensure that students know “where they stand in terms of being college ready,” said Cochise College President Karen Nicodemus, a state board member.

However it came about, “it’s an important review,” she said, referring to the task force’s charge from the Legislature.

Northern Arizona University President John Haeger, another board member, said 25 percent of university students need some remedial help.

College entrance tests such as the ACT and SAT are already in place, Haeger noted.

Horne said a new, higher-level AIMS test could test students’ mastery of subjects such as pre-calculus.

“We just can’t make it a high-stakes test,” he said.

The task force is supposed to report its findings and recommendations to Napolitano, the Legislature and the state board by June 30.

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