By Linda Kor–
Since children are the most valuable asset of any community, it is important for parents, as well as teachers and school administrators, to gauge the quality of their education. One of those gauges is the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test, and spring 2011 results were unveiled just last week. (See chart on Page 6.)
While reading and science scores remain good for the Winslow, Joseph City, Snowflake and Holbrook school districts, an initial review of the scores for mathematics and writing for some of those schools shows some decline.
In Holbrook schools, scores in mathematics showed a greater percentage of students “falling far below,” as well as those who “meet standards.”
In writing, Holbrook, Snowflake and Winslow schools each showed a greater percentage “falling far below” and fewer students who “meet standards.”
While seeing numbers in black and white tends to give the perception that students may or may not be as successful as the previous year, the reality is that there are many factors that can affect the outcome of a test. Dr. Robbie Koerperich, superintendent of the Holbrook School District, explained why AIMS results are not always a true indicator of a child’s abilities or knowledge.
“There are a lot of factors that affect the outcome of the tests. Last year the math test changed and this year it was the writing test. When you teach kids how to take a certain test and the test is changed, it’ll likely affect the outcome and then to make comparison is difficult,” he said.
As an example he cited this year’s writing test, which changed from being primarily about fluency and word choice to grammatical and sentence structure. “It kind of throws kids off to have to dissect and diagram when that’s not what they’ve been used to,” explained Koerperich.
He acknowledges the importance of having benchmarks in order for schools to see where they stand when compared to scores in other areas, but it’s also important to note that those scores do not include the population differences and socioeconomic environment of each area.
“We look at schools with similar populations and environment for comparison. If we score far below another school taking the same test, then we look at that school to see what they’re doing that we might want to implement,” stated Koerperich.
According to Koerperich, when it comes to assessing the overall education of a student, AIMS tests account for only about a fourth of the outcome. “What we look at as a district is the personal development, academic development and social development of each individual student. Some kids are not good test takers, or they may not have been having a good day, so while those scores are important as a way of comparison on a state, regional or county level, it doesn’t accurately reflect the student’s educational growth,” stated Koerperich.
He explained that the importance lies in providing the education that allows students to compete for jobs and college. “I understand that billions of dollars go into education and as such, there’s a desire to quantify how that money is spent. It’s just hard to quantify what’s not quantifiable. What really matters is what our graduates are doing; can they find jobs, are they good citizens? That’s what makes America what it is. That’s the value of an education and I think we provide that,” he said.
So why is it important to pass the AIMS? It’s a requirement for Arizona students to pass the writing, reading and mathematics content areas of the AIMS in order to graduate from high school and, according to Koerperich, 95 to 98 percent of Holbrook’s seniors do pass. Those who don’t pass AIMS receive a review of their overall coursework and that may allow them to graduate, but sometimes even that isn’t enough. “It’s tough to augment like that, but we try. Sometimes a student just doesn’t care about their education and their test scores, and coursework just won’t allow them to pass,” stated Koerperich.
Even now changes are once again in motion regarding the AIMS. By the time this year’s kindergartners reach the third grade, they will likely be taking their tests online three times a year. In spring 2015, a new, tougher national exam is expected to replace the AIMS tests, although it might have the same name. The new test may start out with lowered scores until schools can adjust to the changes and instruct students on the requirements for taking the test. Koerperich views this as an improvement that will allow the schools to have a more accurate picture of how each student is progressing throughout the year.
According to Koerprich, regardless of the process, the results will show how much a student has improved on the test, but is not a relevant indicator of how their education will prepare them for the outside world, something the district views as a true gauge for success.