AIMS test results fall as new preparation begins

Jul 7, 2013 by

By Cathryn Creno –

Although this year’s AIMS test results will not become public until August, some Arizona educators are already bracing for bad news.

“We have been told that our district has lower scores this year — some schools have not met their incentive goals,” said Tammie Pursley, head of the Mesa Education Association, a branch of the national teachers union.

Arizona Department of Education officials say the AIMS tests — Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards — technically were not more difficult this year; students were not tested on more advanced material than they had been taught in class.

But officials acknowledge that some test questions were more complex. Some math problems, for instance, had more steps and some reading passages were more complex and demanding.

“A third-grade math problem might have asked students to multiply 5 x 4, subtract the product from 100 and divide the difference by 8,” said Frank Brashear, the Education Department’s director of test and item development. “Each of the steps is simple, but when you put them together, the problem becomes more complex.”

In previous years, a problem would have included only one or two of those steps, Brashear said.

Officials said more complex questions were included this year because officials are preparing for a transition to a new, more difficult annual assessment called the PARCC — Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — in 2015.

The PARCC is being designed to test what students learn under the new Arizona Common Core Standards, which all public-school teachers are required to use this coming school year.

Some recent AIMS questions were actually “field test questions” for the PARCC and will not count toward students’ AIMS scores, said Irene Hunting, deputy associate superintendent of the Department of Education’s assessment section.

Other test items were simply more complicated AIMS questions and will count in student scores, she said.

“The idea is to help them get a feel for the kind of questions they will have on the PARCC,” Hunting said.

Based on student performance on the AIMS and other tests, including the ACT college-readiness assessment, Education Department researchers estimate that only 30 percent of Arizona students would pass the PARCC if they took it today.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has said the levels of difficulty of both the PARCC and the new standards are going to be a “shock to the system” and that students and educators must start to prepare.

Pursley, the union representative and a junior-high-school teacher in Mesa Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, said she understands the need to prepare for the Common Core and PARCC transition.

But she does not understand why some of her district’s 4,000 teachers may be penalized during it.

Under Mesa schools’ incentive program, teachers are eligible for annual bonuses of up to $2,215 if their schools achieve their goals, including high performance on the AIMS. In addition, employees may receive as much as $300 in extra incentive pay if their schools earn A’s or move up a letter grade on their state report cards.

“We started the last school year with incentive goals based on the AIMS, but then they added the PARCC-like questions,” Pursley said. “Now we are told that many of us won’t be making our goals.”

The Education Department releases AIMS scores and school and district letter grades in August, but sends early versions of the results to school officials so that they can review them and appeal possible mistakes.

Pursley said it was after Mesa reviewed early results that teachers were told their annual incentive bonuses could be lower because of lower AIMS scores.

Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he frequently hears from teachers who feel penalized when their students do not perform well on standardized tests.

He said he has seen no research that connects teacher financial incentives with student test performance. There are just too many other factors that affect test performance, including student’s socioeconomic status, he said.

“There is no research to support the connection of standardized test scores and the management of teachers — even though it is a popular political objective,” Morrill said. “The tests we give students were not designed to show how much teachers should be paid.”

Not all school districts are expecting bad AIMS news this year.

Representatives from the Kyrene Elementary district and the Chandler Unified district say they are not anticipating drops in scores.

The Arizona State Board of Education is seeking ways to avoid penalizing students and educators during the transition to the PARCC.

For instance, high-school seniors must pass the AIMS to graduate until 2016. But after that, the testing requirement may be waived until state officials determine whether they will use the PARCC as a graduation test.

Vince Yanez, the board’s executive director, said there also will likely be “adjustments” to how test scores are used in teacher and principal evaluations and how scores are used to assign letter grades to schools in the first few years of the PARCC.

The Education Department’s Hunting believes some of the stress over the AIMS-PARCC transition is fear of the unknown. She recalls the anxiety educators, students, parents and others felt more than a decade ago as Arizona developed the AIMS.

“We are all afraid of change,” she said.

About the PARCC

The PARCC test, which will replace the state AIMS assessment in 2015, is expected to

be harder than what Arizona students are used to.

PARCC will include more- complex reading passages and math problems with more steps. Students also will need to write short essays explaining how they got their answers to math problems.

The organization developing the new test is called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and is one of two state consortia developing new assessments for states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Arizona, the District of Columbia and 20 other states are members of the partnership, and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal serves on its board.

In the coming school year, some Arizona schools will test the PARCC — and all students in the state will have a chance to try out online sample questions by 2014, said Irene Hunting, deputy associate superintendent of the Arizona Department of Education’s assessment section.

More information about the new test, including prototype questions, can be viewed online at

Republic reporter Kerry Fehr contributed to this article.

via AIMS test results fall as new preparation begins.

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