Bill to Halt Arizona Exam Blocked

K-12 Testing

Arizona legislators trying to stop an exit exam from going into effect for next year’s high school seniors continue to run into the immovable barrier of the senate president, although some changes to the requirement may yet pass. On April 1, the House of Representatives passed a measure, 38 to 16, calling for an alternative path to graduation.


After the Senate education committee approved legislation banning the use of Arizona’s AIMS test as a graduation requirement, Senate President Ken Bennett refused to allow the bill to proceed. Bennett, a former president of the state board of education, cited concerns that legislative action on the bill would weaken students’ motivation to study and do well on the exam. He has promised to block any legislation allowing students to graduate without passing the AIMS exams.


Republican Sen. Thayer Verschoor cosponsored the bill and had lobbied hard for its passage (see Examiner, Winter 2004-05). “The elite majority [in the Senate] has stifled the debate. President Bennett has done a unilateral decision to stand between thousands of students getting a high diploma or not,” said Verschoor.


Verschoor and House co-sponsor Andy Biggs had appealed to Bennett to release the legislation, predicting a “train wreck” next year when a high percentage of students are expected to fail the AIMS test and be denied diplomas. When the class of 2006 took the exams last spring, 57 percent, or about 37,000 students, failed at least one of the subjects. Both legislators noted that they have children in high school who would have to pass AIMS to graduate. Bills to eliminate use of AIMS as an exit exam appeared to have the support of about half the senators.


There is widespread concern about the impact of the exit exam on disabled students, who are failing at a rate of more than 90 percent. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard issued an opinion in February that disabled students who pass their classes should be granted high school diplomas even if they fail the AIMS tests. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he will abide by the opinion for the 10 percent of Arizona seniors, 6,000 students, who have individual education programs (IEPs), though they will still have to take the exam in most cases.