The Arizona Department of Education may have an accountability problem of its own after Monday's decision to delay AIMS as a graduation requirement until 2006.
High school seniors walked onto campus in August with the expectation that they would have to pass the reading and writing portions of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards this spring. Sophomores believed they would also be required to pass a newly revised math component in 2004.
On Monday, Arizona Superintendent Jaime A. Molera convinced the board of education to postpone the requirement, saying, "My first priority as superintendent when I was sworn in three and a half months ago was to bring people together, to once and for all resolve AIMS… I propose a system that is fair to students, fair to schools and fair to the public that demands accountability."
Even high school administrators aren't sure what to think.
"There are some real credibility problems with the political process," explained Mingus Union Principal Hal Alford after learning of the state's newest decision.
Students are even more confused with the state's fluctuating requirements.
"They keep on changing it," said Mingus junior Aaron Whittaker as he put the finishing touches on his math assignment Tuesday morning. "It's frustrating."
Last year, Mingus revamped its math curriculum to better prepare students for AIMS.
But according to Alford, Arizona's most recent tinkering with math standards after a majority of students failed in 2000 has created a new disparity between course work and test requirements.
"So we now have a math curriculum, which isn't as effective as it was before the reworked math standards," he said. "They've continuously tinkered with standards, and that's not fair to kids."
Alford, along with Superintendent John Tavasci of the neighboring Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District are supportive of Molera's efforts to delay the AIMS requirement for graduation.
"We lay the foundation for whether students get out of high school," said Tavasci, who oversees five elementary campuses. "AIMS has a lot of refining work left to be done."
Tavasci says the test never received enough scrutiny to determine its statistical reliability and validity. And although the state's new Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) will provide daily updates on every district's success at meeting Arizona standards, Tavasci is still skeptical of Arizona's ability to establish a system not bogged down by logistics.
"This is history repeating itself," he says. "The state has mandated four systems of evaluation. This is an age-old curriculum problem that gets a name change with each new superintendent."
Although supportive of uniform requirements, both Tavasci and Alford are increasingly frustrated with the state's malleable curriculum measurements.
"Until we really get the standards down, why do we have this mission to keep students from graduating?" asks Alford.
Last week, Molera suggested a plan that could allow individual districts an alternative to AIMS as a graduation requirement.
"I think for some students that's a necessity," says Hiram Buckley, a guidance counselor at Camp Verde High School. "Some students that have difficulty with the test were concerned about AIMS. Others that did well will be disappointed because they're proud of their accomplishment."
Student Advisor Shelley Kitchen believes the shifting AIMS requirements can cause students to loose faith in educators. "The deadline keeps changing and students are beginning to think it's a joke. Some wonder if they're ever going to be held to a standard," she says.
"There's a loss of credibility over this. Where's the good faith?"
Principals of Arizona State Superintendent Jaime Molera's AIMS policy:
Accountability is essential to school improvement; and student mastery of knowledge and skills is the goal of public education; every grade level is critical to student success.
As a voting member of the State Board of Education, Molera also proposes that Arizona students meet the standards by:
Passing an AIMS test, as defined by the State Board of Education; or passing an AIMS equivalent demonstration of proficiency, or AIMS ED, as approved by the State Board of Education.
Requiring local schools to certify that their curricula are aligned to state standards at every grade level.
Ensuring students are developing these skills they need starting at the earliest grades.
Proposing legislation to make necessary improvements of Proposition 301 and its school accountability provisions.
Prior to the Arizona State Board of Education's Aug. 27 decision, 2002, high school graduates would have been required to pass the reading and writing portion of AIMS, while 2004 graduating seniors would also be required to pass the math component of the standardized test.