The Arizona Republic
7:25 am | 55°
January 30, 2009 |
New way urged for gauging schools
Lawmakers: Measure using college-readiness
Half of Maricopa County’s high-school graduates who enter Arizona universities or colleges must take a remedial math class. And just under a quarter must take a remedial English class.
The new findings are helping legislators push for a change in how Arizona decides if its high schools are excelling or failing, a move that would topple AIMS test scores as the main measurement.
Two key House leaders are proposing a pilot program that could lead to making the percentage of students who graduate “college-ready” the prime indicator of how well a high school performs.
Rating schools by AIMS scores sets the bar too low because the state’s standardized student tests are based on 10th-grade skills, said Reps. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican, and David Lujan, a Phoenix Democrat.
Some educators fear that the new approach would put too much emphasis on college-bound students and not enough on marginal students who need extra help or students who don’t want to attend college.
The findings come from an Arizona Community Foundation study released this week that aimed to measure how well high schools prepared their college-bound students.
The College Readiness Report calculated how many 2006 high-school graduates could directly enter freshman-level English and algebra classes and how many had to take remedial classes first.
The study tracked graduates at each of 115 Maricopa County districts and charter high schools who entered one of the three state universities or Maricopa Community Colleges. Those students accounted for 55 percent of the county's 2006 graduates, or about 17,400 students.
The results: Seventy-seven percent were prepared to enter a college-level English course without extra help; half were ready for college algebra.
“The glass is half-full or half-empty, depending on how you look at it,” said Arizona State University’s David Garcia, who conducted the research. All the students in the study had passed Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, passed their high-school courses and earned diplomas, he said.
“After that, the burning question is: ‘What did that mean?’. . . Are we aiming at the right place?” Garcia said. “My primary interest in doing this is to put something else out there for public discussion other than AIMS.”
The study is the first to track such data for individual high schools. Garcia said he is preparing to conduct the research statewide and include students who attend colleges and universities out of state. He also is working on tracking students who attend trade schools.
The College Readiness Report caught the attention of Crandall and Lujan, who plan to introduce a bill this week that would establish a pilot program using the report’s data as the primary measurement of a high school’s performance.
The schools would be measured on improvement in the percentage of graduates who entered college without needing remedial classes.
“When you use AIMS as your total measurement, you get 10th-grade results, and that’s not good enough,” said Crandall, chairman of the House Education Committee. Crandall, once president of the Mesa Unified District governing board, who has already established a legislative task force to examine the future of AIMS. Its recommendations are due in June, and it could suggest changing the AIMS exam, killing it as a graduation requirement, replacing it or adding a college-entrance or another test.
The bill, drafted by Lujan, would keep AIMS scores and graduation rates as part of a new formula to evaluate school instruction, but College Readiness Report data would play the key role. Lujan said it’s easier for parents to understand.
In all measures, schools would have to show progress in the percentage of students meeting the new goals.
The AIMS reading, writing and math exam is taken each year by students in third through eighth grades and in 10th grade. It measures how well students are achieving grade-level learning goals, and high-school students must pass the exam to graduate. Test scores are used to rate schools on a six-level scale that ranges from excelling to failing.
“People really don’t know what the AIMS test measures,” Lujan said. “Looking at how many students have to take remedial classes when they get to college, I think that’s a really good indicator.”
Schools participating in the pilot would include all the high schools in one district, most likely Phoenix Union High School District, where Lujan still sits on the board, and five charter high schools.
The schools would develop the new formula and use it to determine their rankings by September 2010.
State officials would track and report on the progress of students in schools using the new formula.
Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, said he, too, wants to push all high schools to improve learning for college-bound students. College-readiness numbers could become a small part of the current formula, but AIMS scores should remain the key indicator, he said.
“I worked very hard to make sure the formula, as a whole, is fair,” Horne said. “We must be sure the kids who don’t go to college are still well prepared for life.”