In some of my previous posts I’ve addressed how meaningless the AIMS tests are in Arizona. This post is specifically about Arizona’s AIMS math tests.

In my school district 8th graders do relatively well on Arizona’s AIMS math tests. About 78 – 80% of the 8th graders “meet or exceed the standard” each year, which means that they have passed the math test. We should be proud of those results.

But those results are largely meaningless.

If 80% of our 8th graders “pass” the AIMS math test, then 80% of our 8th graders should arrive at the high school prepared to take Algebra 1-2. Don’t you think that’s a reasonable expectation? The truth is that for years only about 30% of our 8th graders have been ready to take a one-year Algebra 1-2 class their freshman year. Until last year the other 70% were enrolled in Algebra 1a first semester and then Algebra 1b second semester. If they passed both semesters, then during their sophomore year, they took Algebra 2a first semester and then Algebra 2b. In order to get 70% of our students to pass Algebra 1-2, we had to give them more time — in other words, they got 2 years of instruction in order to pass Algebra 1-2. Think of dividing an Algebra 1-2 book into 4 sections. The first section was studied in Algebra 1a, the second section in Algebra 1b, the third section in Algebra 2a and so.

As the high school principal, I attempted several times to explain to the district administration that a train wreck was awaiting us down the road. I knew that the state of Arizona was planning to make significant changes in the state math standards. It was rumored that students would be required to take 4 years of math in order to receive a diploma. It was also rumored that Algebra 3-4 would be one of the 4 math classes that students would have to pass.

How do you pass Algebra 3-4 if you don’t understand Algebra 1-2? If a student passes Algebra 1-2 with a D, in my opinion, he or she doesn’t have the knowledge to pass Algebra 3-4. Because 70% of our freshmen were enrolled in the two-year Algebra 1-2 sequence I knew that they would have to take Geometry 1-2 their junior year and then Algebra 3-4 their senior year. They would not have 4 years of math under their belt. I could see that there were going to be lots of 5 year seniors. Now that’s a train wreck, don’t you think?

It took me several years to get the attention of the district administrators. This was not a subject that they wanted to bring up with the middle school principals. My math department had already been discussing this issue with the middle school math teachers, who are excellent teachers. They were on board and ready to change the curriculum. They could see the problem. But they didn’t want to be the ones to broach the topic with their administration because they knew how important good AIMS math scores were to middle school administrators, who wanted their school labeled as “excelling.”

As I said to district administration, middle school can’t simply prepare their 8th grade students for the AIMS math test. They must, first and foremost, get their students ready for 9th grade, which means ready for Algebra 1-2. If they can do both, fine.

Now I don’t know why there is little correlation between the 8th grade AIMS math test and how well 8th graders are being prepared to take high school algebra. The reason I don’t know is that principals and teachers do not have permission to look at the tests. They would lose their certification in the state of Arizona if they were to take a glance. If only we could have taken a look to see where the lack of correlation lay. But that door was not open to us.

I finally got the district to take me seriously. We took a giant leap last year and enrolled almost all freshmen in Algebra 1-2. We got rid of Algebra 1a -2b. We enrolled many of our freshmen in two math classes. One was Algebra 1-2, and the other was a regularly scheduled lab so they could get additional instruction and more guided practice on each day’s new concept. The school board had already voted to support my request that Algebra 1-2 students make a C in order to get credit.

The state of Arizona is now requiring that students have 4 years of math, and one of the 4 classes must be Algebra 3-4. This year at the high school sophomores who did not pass Algebra 1-2 must retake it and also take Geometry 1-2 as well if they hope to graduate in 4 years. I understand that with its budget shortfall that the district is having a difficult time paying for the additional staff to teach the math labs plus the large number of freshman who must retake Algebra 1-2 as sophomores plus the number of sections needed for this year’s freshmen.

Oh yes. The district needs to drop the requirement that students must pass Algebra 1-2 with a “C” because they need to pass these students on in order to get them graduated in 4 years. So I hear that a D will now be an acceptable passing grade.

It’s your choice. Which train wreck do you prefer? The one where students don’t understand Algebra 1-2 well enough to pass Algebra 3-4? Or do you like the one where parents suddenly realize their seniors won’t be graduating because they don’t have enough math credits? It’s really the same train wreck, isn’t it?

School reform takes a long time to achieve. We need to start with kindergarten and follow that class along, raising the standards and expectations each year so that by the time these students reach high school, they are ready for a rigorous curriculum.

But that’s not the way NCLB was set up.

Who do you think will get the blame when many seniors are not able to pass their math classes and not be able to graduate in 4 years? The high school, of course. It’s a systemic problem, though. The solution lies back in the early grades.

The irony is that before NCLB came along that’s exactly what my district was doing. We were focused on the early grades and seeing tremendous growth. But with NCLB we had to spread our limited resources all over the place, from kindergarten through 12th grade. Too bad. Before NCLB, things were going well — but then — along came NCLB.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

November 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Okay so I am doing so much research that it is blowing my mind!.. I am saddened that we are no longer number one in education in the world. The hippy generation really screwed up the system. Hate to say it but I have sat back and watched education get worse and worse. Granted I may only be 34 but things have changed drastically since even I was in school. Food sucks that they serve, and they blame everyone else for the obesity. Learning starts at home mydaughter could read at age 2.5 years. She is 10and has an 11 grade reading level, however my son I have to fight daily just to get him to let me read to him. All kids learn differently. What happened to educators that educate for the love of it. Now it seems too many go into the field because its “easy money”. Teachers unions. Teaching is a (or used to be) a nobel profession. For the past two years I have sat in parent teacher conferences and listened to my chidrens teachers tell me that they dont have the time to teach what needs to be taught because they have to have these kids ready for AIMS. Really, is that how its going to be? I am MAD, FRUSTRATED, and looking at all alleys I can to try to help a very bad situation that only continues to get worse! 516 students didnt graduate because of AIMS a few years back? That to me signals major red flags! I may not be a teacher but I am a loving and extremely concerned parent. It also seems to me that too many teachers are trying to pass the buck to the parents to teach the kids at home. UMMMM, hello that is what you are paid for. We moved districts this past year guess what my duaghters teacher didnt have the time to teach them cursive because guess what no time and they had to get ready for AIMS. Once again where is this going to take our country further and further down. I will be taking my daughter out of the public system as soon as I can find a privat school that we can enroll her in. When my son hits the 3rd grade I am pulling him as well. I have never been so disgusted at the state of our educational system as I am now. I would rather my children drop out of school at 16 get their GED’s then spend 12 years trying to get a good education just to find out they dont get to graduate. Talk about ruining their self esteem and crashing into a really bad depression. I am not saying that every child will do that, but we are setting this and future generations up for some serious issues. I get tested yearly I believe it was the ITBS? I had a great education, my teachers had the time and resources necessary to teach me. I wasnt rushed and pushed and prodded. If I needed help they were there. I understand that you are not who I should be venting to however, maybe you can put me in contact with the right people. Something must be done for our children! I would be a teacher for free if I could teach the old ways!!!!!

So sorry for lashing out at you I can only hope that I have given someone some food for thought.

March 30, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I am currently in the eighth grade in Arizona. I plan to go to a private highschool in Caifornia. Am i still required to take the AIMS test in 8th grade? Does it make a difference that im going into a private school?

Thank you

March 31, 2011 at 4:28 am

Hi Julia,

Good news! You will not need to pass the Arizona AIMS tests in order to graduate from a private high school in California. California has its own tests, but if you are in a private school, you are not affected. I commend you for thinking ahead.

Best of luck!