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AIMS test standards don’t aim high enough to prepare students

Susan Carlson (Submitted photo)

Let’s celebrate those Arizona K-12 public schools — both traditional and charter — that are advancing their students more quickly than their peers toward college and career readiness. Let’s study their strategies and share those strategies so that similar schools might use them.

We need to do this now because students need to perform at higher levels than ever with the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments. Business and education leaders must begin to collaborate now about how best to prepare all students to be college and career ready, using student performance data and national benchmarks. College and career readiness preparation begins prior to third grade.

The Arizona Business & Education Coalition (ABEC) is facilitating a school recognition project, in a partnership with the National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) and the Arizona Department of Education, and sponsored by Greater Phoenix Leadership, Helios Education Foundation, GearUP! Arizona and the Southern Arizona Leadership Council.

In order to identify college and career readiness (CCR) targets on the AIMS test, NCEA compared AIMS test scores with ACT test benchmarks for college and career readiness. NCEA then worked backwards from that data to get a CCR benchmark number for the third grade level, which is the first time students take the AIMS test.

Thanks to this comparison, Arizona now has CCR target scores on AIMS. In every grade tested, the AIMS score for “meets expectations” falls below the CCR benchmark score. For example, in third grade reading, a score of 431 meets expectations on AIMS — but the score needed to meet the CCR benchmark is 488. In fourth grade science, a score of 547 is “exceeding” expectations on AIMS but still doesn’t meet the CCR mark.  A student achieving the CCR target score on AIMS is on the ramp to college and career readiness, and that ascent begins in third grade.

Comparing schools of like demographics, NCEA’s researchers then use a statistical model that identifies value-added effects of schools to identify those that would qualify for the Arizona Higher Performing Schools list.

Schools can make the Higher Performers list either through measurement of growth of student achievement or the absolute level of student achievement.

Out of 1,544 schools that qualified for the evaluation, 183 schools are advancing their students toward CCR in one or more content areas (i.e., reading and science) in all grades tested. Only 13 schools are Arizona Higher Performers in all subjects, outperforming their peers in every content area and every grade tested.

Go to www.nc4ea.org to find NCEA’s CCR charts for Arizona schools (grades 3-12). These charts show the percentage of students meeting expectations on AIMS, compared to the percentage scoring at the CCR level. The analyses compare demographically similar schools. Schools are grouped for comparison to identify those that provide examples of effective practices.

Schools serving similar students can learn from each other through collaboration and sharing the ideas that actually work.

— Susan Carlson is executive director of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition.

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