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Testing failures not the fault of students


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 30, 1999
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Recently, the state of Arizona released the scores from the first round of AIMS testing, which took place in Arizona high schools last year. These results tell us something very important: our students are in trouble. In the future, failure on these tests will mean students will not graduate from high school. If we want to go from the failures of this first round to successes in the future, we need to make some changes, beginning with how we deal with teachers.

In the very near future, this will become a university issue. If half of the seniors at high schools in Arizona don't graduate, there won't be a freshman class. Our Integrated Learning Center will be about as useful as a big hole in the ground.

Results from the test were conclusive. Statewide, 88 percent of students failed the math section of the test, 38 percent failed the reading section and 70 percent failed the writing section. Even the best of these scores, in which more than one third of our students showed that they cannot even read at an acceptable level, is absolutely unacceptable. This testing is a good thing. It tells us where we are, and, with repeated applications, will tell us where we are going. Right now, the things it is telling us are not very nice.

Many excuses have been offered for the students poor performance. Foremost, and most believable among these, is that these students took the test that would enable them to graduate high school in their sophomore year, and they shouldn't be able to pass them yet. This may be the case, but even this fails to explain such horrific results.

Another reason given for the low test scores is that students haven't been adequately prepared for the test. For their entire school careers, students have been held to a standard significantly lower than the one established by the AIMS test. Now, in their last two years of school, they are suddenly put up against the standard that they should have been held up to for all these years. However, this explanation fails to absolve the schools of responsibility.

We can't blame this mess on the students. School commissioner Lisa Graham Keegan just barely passed the math portion of the test when she took it last year, scoring 520 out of a possible 800 points. A passing score is 500 points.

All told, the easiest thing to do is to blame the parents. Often, we hear that the problem is that parents don't discipline their children, don't provide positive role models, don't teach the proper moral and social skills. For the most part, these criticisms are valid. In fact, many of the problems of today's school can be placed on the shoulders of the parents. However, standardized test scores cannot be blamed on the parents. It is the job of the parents to prepare the students to learn, to teach them how to be a good student. In the end, it is still the job of the teachers, and the schools, to teach.

Teachers are underqualified, held down by a system that encourages mediocrity. Today, teachers are paid based on their seniority rather than their skill. As they are given no incentive to excel, it is in their best interests to put in exactly as much effort as it requires to keep their jobs and move up the seniority chain. If we want that, our teachers should do a better job, we need to give them some impetus to do so.

We have made the decision to raise standards for our students, now we must support this decision by raising standards for our teachers and our schools. We cannot just provide a mandate to schools saying that they need to do better. We must provide them with the money and the additional legislative support that they will need in order to carry out their new mission. Money is sure to be the easy part. Implementing the laws needed to make the new system a success will be a struggle, if it is possible at all.

If we are going to require our high school graduates to score 500 on each section of the test, it is more than reasonable to expect our teachers to score a 600, or more.

Teachers' unions claim to act on behalf of the students, but, over the years, they have become confused. Now, they act to preserve the status quo, to ensure that they will not be tested, not be graded, not be evaluated. They try to ensure that they will not have to deal with competition.

High school students in Arizona have a problem, and that means that we have a problem. If we want to solve it, we can't just change the educational system, but the educators themselves.

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