Arizona Republic piece on AIMS

Education requires our support

John Scudder
Arizona Republic
Sept. 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Oh, no! The fill-in-the-blank test scores have been released,
and a huge percentage of the children failed. What will we do?
Who will we blame? The entire education system is a failure.
The sky is falling!
Unfortunately, this predictable reaction is surrounding us once
again following the release of the newest AIMS results. But before
we get too excited, let's consider a few things.

The AIMS results are not a surprise. As always, they are almost
perfectly correlated with socioeconomic status. News flash: Our
poorest students need help.

Instead of blaming the educators who work with these students
through unfair labels and financial penalties, we should be helping
them with additional resources and training.

Additionally, while testing in itself is not a bad thing,
placing too much emphasis on a single exam as a panacea is nothing
more than a fool's paradise.

Data from other states, such as Texas, show us that scores
on one exam may mean nothing on another. Further, there are absolutely
no long-term data on what happens to students who are subjected
to nothing more than test-preparation worksheets for hours on
end.

And make no mistake, by making AIMS and Stanford 9 the twin
deities of our educational system, this is what we are encouraging.
As education theorist Alfie Kohn has pointed out, we never stop
to consider the cost of our single-minded fascination with pumping
up test scores.

Let me tell you at what cost. How about dropping music, art,
social studies, science and PE classes? What about drilling children
for hours on test-taking skills instead of teaching them to think
critically and creatively? How about changing reading from the
in-depth study of classical novels to the skimming of short passages
followed by multiple-choice questions?

I fully admit that we must do something to help the education
of many of our schoolchildren. Not surprisingly, almost all of
the students who need help live in lower socioeconomic areas.
Their problems cannot simply be remedied by instituting a test
and so-called higher standards.

We must make a societal commitment to helping our public and
charter schools in poorer areas and supporting the educators
who dare to work there. That is something worth getting excited
about.

John Scudder is a writer and teacher who grew up in Scottsdale.
He can be reached at scudpolitics@msn.com. The views expressed
are those of the author.