A bill that would link passage of third grade to a student’s performance on the AIMS test has been approved by the House Education Committee.
The measure, sponsored by the committee’s chairman, Mesa Republican Rep. Rich Crandall, would prohibit schools from sending a student to fourth grade if he or she scores less than 41 percent on the reading portion of the state’s AIMS test. All Arizona third graders attending public schools take the AIMS test.
Crandall, a Republican from Mesa, pointed to statistics compiled by the Department of Education that show nearly 11,000 Arizona third graders failed the reading portion of the AIMS test last year, but only 200 were held back.
“We are the kings of social promotion in the United States,” he said.
The notion of using a child’s reading ability after the third grade as a determining factor in his or her promotion to fourth grade has its roots in Florida, which enacted such a requirement as part of sweeping educational reforms beginning in 1999.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who spearheaded that state’s effort to overhaul its education system, spoke to House and Senate Education committees in October about Florida’s policy changes and the resulting increase in student scores on standardized tests.
Crandall said his bill, H2732, would affect fewer than 5,000 students. Of the 11,000 who did not pass the AIMS test last year, more than 6,000 had scores greater than 41 percent, so they would not be included in this bill.
The bill would require school districts to adopt “intervention strategies” that would be developed by a new task force and approved by the State Board of Education. Each district would be required to offer three of the intervention programs, and parents would select which one the student would use.
The intervention strategies would be required to include several components, such as summer school reading instruction and intensive reading instruction before or after the school day.
Maricopa County Schools Superintendent Don Covey said studies have shown that students who can’t read by the time they are in the third grade have a higher risk of ending up in prison. Indiana, he said, for years used its second-grade literacy rate to determine how many prisons it would need in the future.
“It’s where young people learn the tools for learning,” he said.
Dr. Matthew Ladner, the vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute, said Florida’s results should encourage other states to go down the same path.
“The proof is in the pudding. Florida’s dropout rate has been declining…and graduation rates are increasing,” he said.
However, several education advocacy groups and school districts voiced concerns about the cost to school districts of implementing three intervention strategies, especially considering the possibility of further cuts to education spending.
“We’ve got to be cost-conscious about what we can and can’t do,” said Michael Smith, a lobbyist for the Arizona School Administrators.