Final AIMS tests underway; students take PARCC tests next year

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Students throughout the state are taking the AIMS test for the last time.

AIMS, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, is a standardized test students are required to pass in order to graduate from high school.

Testing runs now through April 25, depending on each district's schedule.

"This is the last year for the AIMS test," Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said Monday morning. "It measures mathematics achievement. It measures English language arts achievement -- reading skills, writing skills. We've seen steady academic growth over the time period that we've had AIMS in place and the Arizona Content Standards in place."

Still, the results are not quite what state officials had hoped.

"It's not what we would like, but given the fact that an increasing percentage of our students are coming from challenging environments … we've been fairly pleased with it," Huppenthal said.

With Huppenthal at the helm, the Arizona Department of Education is in the process of transitions a new set of standards -- Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards (AZCCRS).

"We anticipate that the growth levels of academic achievement will pick up," Huppenthal said.

"Simply put, [AZCCRS] are a set of expectations placed on students to ensure that when they leave the classroom they are prepared to become informed, productive members of their community," reads the ADE website that explains the new standards. "These standards significantly raise the bar for our students, and focus on critical-thinking, problem solving, and effective communication skills. … Upon graduation, these students will be ready to not only compete in a competitive job market, but to excel."

Starting next spring, Arizona will join several other states in administering the Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.

PARCC is a series of K-12 assessments in math and English that "are carefully crafted to give teachers, schools, students, and parents better and more useful information on how we’re preparing our kids for their futures," according to the PARCC website.

Eventually, all of the testing will be done on computers.

Huppenthal said PARCC has several benefits over AIMS.

"It will be more accurate, particularly for the students at the upper end and the lower end, he explained. "It will be more trustworthy. The integrity surrounding it will be more ironclad."

There has been controversy over schools "teaching to the test" to ensure high scores and rankings at the expense of the students' critical-thinking skills. AIMS opponents say students merely memorize what they need to know for the test without understanding how to apply what they're memorizing to the world around them.

"With the new test, teaching to the test means teaching skills …," Huppenthal said. "The new test will test conceptual awareness at a much deeper level and ensure that students are learning …. We see much too high of a failure rate in academics right now because students are simply memorizing, not understanding."

Huppenthal said AZCCRS and PARCC are designed to change that so that schools truly prepare students for what comes next.

"We anticipate … that we will see a much higher percentage of our students ready for college, ready for a career at the end of 12th grade," he said.

While most students will start taking PARCC next spring, 11th and 12th graders who have not passed the AIMS will be retested. Juniors will take the PARCC in 2016.

The new assessments will be fully implemented in grades three through 12 by 2017. When that happens, the new assessment will be a percentage of high-school course grades. That percentage has not been determined.