AIMS test scores bring down Phoenix graduation rate

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PHOENIX – Hundreds of high school seniors have just learned they are not graduating and it's because they couldn't pass the AIMS test.

The test scores were just given to school districts statewide last week so the Phoenix Union High School District had very little time to notify 253 seniors that they won’t be graduating Wednesday and Thursday.

“I just passed math this year, I just passed reading last year and passed writing the first year I took it,” Bria Thomas said.

Thomas said she’s just glad she finally has those AIMS tests behind her and gets to wear her cap and gown, walk across stage at the Coliseum and get her diploma Wednesday.

“It's really exciting," Thomas said. "All my family's out here and everything, so I’m really excited.”

Passing the AIMS test became mandatory to graduate in 2006, but because so many students weren't passing it districts were allowed to boost students' scores by giving points for grades of a C or better.

Also a student could substitute their ACT or SAT score if they needed to. This year districts can augment a student’s score 5 percent. In the Phoenix Union High School District, 185 student had their scores boosted to graduate and 253 did not qualify.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, augmentation was supposed to go away in 2007 but with so many students still at risk of failing, the Legislature decided to phase it out over time.

In 2009 scores could be augmented 25 percent in 2010, 15 percent and in 2011 just 5 percent.

For some students, augmentation isn’t needed.

“Yeah I passed it all my first year,” says Central HIgh School student Senait Woldegebriel. “It wasn't hard for me it was easy, but it's just like all the pressure of taking that test and the pressure the teachers put on you and your parents put on you."

Passing the AIMS test is not only required to graduate, but this year it determines about 95 percent of a student’s eligibility for a diploma.

“Our students are not only required to complete their coursework, but they have to pass the AIMS test, too,” said Althe Allen, assistant superintendent of instruction for the Phoenix Union High School District. “The reality is this is a high-stakes test.”

Some sympathetic students say the test is not fair for everyone.

“They don't get any special treatment,” Woldegebriel said. "My first language is English, but they have to take the same test."

“We want our students to come out with a basic understanding of certain skills,” said Andrew LeFevre with the Arizona Department of Education.

Considering the fact that only 516 students statewide last year did not graduate because of their AIMS test scores and already this year 253 in Phoenix alone won't be walking, it's clear graduation rates statewide will be affected.

“They wanted the test to mean something,” LeFevre said. “Obviously, if we augmented it at that initial 25 percent going forward I think it created an artificial perception of what the AIMS test was really measuring.”