Arizona Adds Exit Exam Options

K-12 Testing

Arizona legislators, fearing continued high failure rates on the state’s high school exit exam, passed a law to allow students to use classroom grades to overcome poor scores on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) tests. AIMS exit exams in math, writing and reading were originally mandated for the Class of 2000 but were delayed twice and are now set to take effect for the class of 2006. Efforts to block the test failed (Examiner, Spring 2005).


The lawmakers voted to allow juniors and sophomores who earn grades of A, B or C in reading, writing and math to boost their scores by as much as 25 percent, thereby increasing their chances of graduating.


The AZ Center on the Public Interest announced it will seek a court order barring the use of AIMS as a graduation requirement for students who are still learning English. The Center had won a suit requiring the state to better support English Language Learners (ELL); it now claims that until that funding is provided, ELL students should graduate based on passing their coursework.


State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne opposed the plan to allow grades to make up for failing AIMS scores. His agency had already revised the AIMS and set a lower passing score. Between the new test and the new cutoff score, the percentage of students who passed the test soared this year: the failure rate on the math test declined by nearly 28 percent from the Class of 2006 to the Class of 2007.


John Wright, president of the AZ Education Association, observed that this process teaches students to game the system. “Unfortunately, that’s a consequence of high-stakes testing,” he told the Arizona Daily Star.


The new AIMS test will not help cut the dropout rate, Horne explained, “We’re not going to get kids who would otherwise drop out.” He added that he expected 90 percent of students who nwould have graduated to pass AIMS. Historically, the state has claimed about 70 percent of the state’s students graduate. If close to 10 percent of that group do not pass the test, more than a third of all students who enter high school will not graduate.


“I guess the goal is not to increase student achievement across the board and keep students in school, but the effect is to keep pushing the same kids out,” observed Joan Mason, an administrator from Phoenix.


Students who complete their graduation requirements by Jan. 1, 2006 can avoid the exit exam.