Arizona public schools receive unsatisfactory marks when it comes to standardized test scores, as evidenced by the recently released results of this spring's Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test, the state's barometer for success on the education front
There has been slight progress -- reading scores rose to a 76 percent passing rate, 3 percent higher than last year. Math scores also went up, rising 2 percent to an unimpressive 59 percent.
Writing scores however, remain in the crapper -- scores this year dropped 15 percent to a failing grade of 56 percent.
The bane of many a kid's grade-school career, the AIMS test is always changing.
Last year the state added a higher degree of difficulty to the math portion of the test while, this year, multiple-choice questions were added to the essay portion.
And many see these changes as causing students' problems.
"It's going to take students a few years to get used to [this]," Andy Lefevre, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education Department, tells New Times, about the new test. "We knew there was going to be a dip, but ultimately Superintendent John Huppenthal feels that if we hold the students to higher expectations, they will rise."
It's difficult to measure the success of the AIMS test -- taken from the third through eighth grades and then again in 10th grade -- because of the number of changes throughout the years, but state eduction officials say the state is doing fine.
"Clearly we're seeing very slow measured amounts of progress," Lefevre says. "But we're seeing that the student's level is getting closer to our overall expectations."
Arizona public schools also struggle with graduation rates, ranking only 38th in the county.
Arizona grad rates have leveled at 67 percent, according to a 2008 study by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. But out of the state's more than one million students, about 26,000 in 2011 classes are projected to drop out.
That ranks Arizona 14th in the country in terms of projected number of non-graduates.
Clearly, a change in the system needs to happen, education officials say, and that adjustment is scheduled to come in 2014 when the state will revamp its testing standards to adhere to a rigorous series of nationwide requirements.
These new criteria for students are part of a national push for a more uniform way of evaluating progress. Now, criteria vary from state to state.
"We're reeducating teachers and students [to] rise to the level they need to," Lefarvre says. "But it's hard to say if the new standards will affect [graduation rates]."
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