A bill to scrap the requirement that high school students pass the AIMS test is heading to the governor’s desk after being approved by the House on Tuesday during a heated debate.
The bill, HB2425, is a bare-bones version of earlier attempts to transition the state away from the AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards) test and toward a new test which would measure students’ knowledge of the criteria outlined in Common Core educational standards.
It would repeal the requirement that students pass the AIMS test before graduating from high school. Although the bill does not specify an alternate test, the state Board of Education has already adopted the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) test, and the bill gives them the authority to implement it.
Another bill to swap the AIMS test with the PARCC test passed the House but was held in a Senate committee, forcing supporters of Common Core standards to use a strike everything amendment. The final vote in the House was 44 to 14.
The state agreed to adopt Common Core education standards three years ago, but has yet to implement a test that can measure student achievement within the framework of the new standards. Though everyone in the Legislature seems to agree that AIMS is an outdated test that needs to be replaced as the state moves toward Common Core standards, the issue of how to do it has become a lightning rod of controversy.
Tea party and GOP activists have branded Common Core as a federal government encroachment on local school districts’ control and have likened Common Core to Agenda 21, a series of non-binding sustainable development principles adopted by the U.S. and other countries that critics characterize as a power grab by an international government body.
Republican Rep. John Allen of Scottsdale said that the AIMS test has been perennially dumbed down, to the point where it doesn’t make sense to keep it anymore. He said that the backlash against the transition away from AIMS towards something else is unfounded.
“It somehow got caught up in the UN and a whole bunch of other stuff that is superfluous to the idea that we have to have a (new) test, we have to have one. We cannot operate our education system without the ability to measure the outcomes,” Allen said.
Like Allen, Republican Rep. J.D. Mesnard of Chandler has heard of possible blowback from certain GOP groups for supporting Common Core standards, but said that voting against the bill be putting politics ahead of students, by forcing students to study one curriculum and then testing them on a different curriculum.
“I won’t screw over the kids of Arizona to make some kind of political statement,” he said.
But Republican Rep. Carl Seel of Phoenix said the bill would shift much legislative authority to the state Board of Education, and that lawmakers shouldn’t repeal AIMS until they know what the replacement test will look like and how much it will cost.
“We have checks and balances in relation to the AIMS test, but we’re giving those checks and balances away to the state Board of Education. I think that’s a poor decision… We don’t even know how much this program or idea is going to cost,” he said.
In fact, several lawmakers cited their lack of knowledge on the issue as a primary reason they couldn’t vote for the bill. Republican Rep. Warren Petersen of Gilbert was one of the lawmakers with unanswered questions about Common Core standards, and said that until he fully understands the costs and consequences of repealing the AIMS test, he cannot vote for it – and he urged his fellow lawmakers not to, either.
“So if you fully understand this bill and what it does, then vote yes, but if you do not fully understand what it does… vote no,” he said.
Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff said he doesn’t fully understand everything about Common Core, but he knows enough to see that AIMS is outdated and isn’t working.
“One thing that I’m really lacking, and I think that many of you (lawmakers) are really lacking, is an in-depth understanding of Common Core. Whether you vote for this bill or not, I would like to challenge each and every one of you… to understand this thing inside and out,” he said, noting that his yes vote on the bill at hand wasn’t necessarily a referendum on Common Core.
But Republican Rep. Rick Gray of Sun City West said that the Common Core train is already rolling and, ready or not, lawmakers need to adopt a test to measure student’s understanding of the curriculum being taught.
“The bottom line is this (transition to Common Core) has been in process for several years now, and if we do not remove the AIMS standards we are going to be teaching our kids… with certain criteria and certain standards and we will be testing them on something else. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Gray said.