Guest Commentary 

Our state's educators let kids down by destroying the AIMS-test requirement

Gov. Janet Napolitano signed into law a bill that will allow government-school students to boost their AIMS test scores with good grades. This brings us back to the world as it existed before the test was a gleam in Lisa Keegan's eye.

We are now full-circle, because the original problem was artificially good grades and social promotions. Those problems persist, and now that those grades trump, or "augment," the AIMS test score, it seems that there is no longer any hope for government schools.

This sordid story goes back to 1995, when then Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Keegan got the ball rolling on a high school graduation test. The hope was that, by setting statewide standards, a high school diploma would indicate that the student had a basic grasp of reading, writing and mathematics. A year later, the Board of Education set the standards, and the Arizona Legislature made passing the test a requirement for graduation.

So the government education establishment rolled up its sleeves, stepped up to the plate and made sure that every senior could pass the test ... right?

Well, not exactly. Though the requirement was to be phased in over a five-year period, no serious attempt at compliance was made; rather, energy was spent fighting the test. The year that the requirement was to go into effect was pushed from 2001 to 2002, then to 2006. Pressure was put on Superintendent Tom Horne in 2003 to dump the test. He refused, but promised to water it down. It was in 2006 that two advocacy groups sued to remove the test as a graduation requirement, and a judge in Maricopa County tossed the suit out. Now, after Napolitano's signature on the bill, the test scores can be inflated, just like the grades.

The education establishment wins, and the students lose. If that is not bad enough, think of the message the example sends to the students. Imagine a guy with a shiny suit, two-tone wing tips, a pencil-thin mustache and slicked-back hair approaching your kid as he leaves school. He puts his arm around your kid, leans over and says, "Hey kid, don't worry about all that AIMS stuff. It don't matter. Yeah, you'll hear them say stuff like 'accepting the challenge' and 'achievement' and all that crap, but you know that stuff's for chumps--they can't touch us. Do they think they can make you learn? Think you gonna be an engineer or something? Just keep doing what you're doing; those punks will cave."

And that's exactly what happened: The punks caved.

However, all is not lost. While the documents were on their way to the governor, the Arizona Daily Star reported, "Tucson's BASIS Charter School is heralded as the top public school in the United States in the new issue of Newsweek magazine."

Charter schools, if you do not already know, are privately owned schools which contract with the state board of education, and the local school districts, to provide education services. They charge no tuition and are paid by the state per pupil--much like the government schools, but they have no freely provided infrastructure.

I will certainly admit that the populations at the charter and government schools differ. Clearly, the charter student parent is, generally speaking, more engaged than the government parent. After all, the charter parents concern themselves with their children's education, at least, while many mouth-breathing government parents are just glad that the kids are gone for the day, and someone feeds them lunch. Parental involvement is, by far, the most important factor in a child's educational success.

Charter schools are considered "public" schools, though they more accurately described as "government contractors." Government contractors have long been employed to do what the government itself just can't seem to get done internally--usually because, from top to bottom, the employees know that "the punks will cave."

By the way, passing AIMS is a requirement for graduation at charter schools. It's part of the contract.

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