When the Arizona Department of Education began giving students a test based on state learning standards in 1999, few people dreamed that the exam would spark debate for years to come.

Parents and teachers have criticized the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) as being too difficult and insufficiently aligned with state standards. The dismal pass rate prompted state officials to postpone making it a requirement for high school graduation four times. And the Department of Education had to find a new contractor for the test after becoming embroiled in a dispute over score accuracy and the lag time in reporting scores. Schools have had to re-evaluate their program offerings and concentrate more on the areas that are tested: math, reading and writing. Programs such as driver education and fine arts have become a lesser priority, if they are offered at all.

To understand the AIMS test and how it affects your child, you need to know the basics. Here are important details:

  • The AIMS is given to students every spring in grades, 3 through 8 and 10, and is offered several more times to 11th and 12th graders who don’t pass it in 10th grade. Since the number of students taking the AIMS in 11th and 12th grade varies from school to school, it isn’t possible to compare 11th and 12th grade scores with 10th grade results.
  • Students don’t need to pass the AIMS to be promoted to the next grade, but passing the grade 10 AIMS test is a graduation requirement, beginning with the class of 2006. Students will have the option to use their high school grades to augment their AIMS scores in order to graduate.
  • Students are tested in English, math and writing. They must answer different types of questions, including multiple-choice and short-answer items, as well as essay questions.
  • The AIMS is a standards-based test, designed to measure student performance relative to state learning standards. Arizona students also take a norm-referenced test called the TerraNova, to measure their progress in comparison to students throughout the U.S.
  • AIMS is integrated with the TerraNova test in grades 3 through 8.The composite test is called the AIMS DPA (Dual Purpose Assessment).
  • AIMS scores are categorized in four performance levels (from best to worst): Exceeds the Standard, Meets the Standard, Approaches the Standard and Falls Far Below the Standard. The goal is for all students to meet the standard.
  • The mathematics section of the AIMS underwent a major transformation after 2000 because of complaints that too many students were failing the test. For example, only 12% of 10th graders taking the exam in the spring of 1999 passed the math section. Because the math section was significantly changed, it isn’t possible to compare math results from 1999 or 2000 with those of subsequent years.
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