Yesterday, the Arizona Department of Education released the 2005 AIMS results. Scores went up across the board-way up in some cases, with districts reporting increases of 30 and even 50 points.
But are these gains the result of student learning or lowering the bar? Every year since 1999, the state has lowered AIMS passing scores or made content easier. Despite those efforts, about 60 percent of high school students taking AIMS for the first time failed in 2002, 2003, and 2004.
After those exams, the state completely overhauled AIMS to make it easier to pass. In 2005 the failure rate was almost halved: about 30 percent of high school students taking AIMS for the first time failed. According to Monty Neill, co-director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, "This certainly reeks of manipulating the exam and cutoff scores to come up with the desired results."
Furthering the trend, new legislation adopted this spring lets students use qualifying class grades to raise their AIMS scores, meaning students can pass the test and receive their high school diplomas even if they get half of the questions wrong.
At this rate, everyone will be passing, but will anyone be learning?
Source: Arizona Department of Education
1. Failing percentages represent the combined percentages for the "Falls Far Below" and "Approaches" performance level categories.
2. An average of 47,000 10th graders in district and charter public schools were tested in 2002; 49,000 in 2003; 64,000 in 2004; and 63,000 in 2005. Tenth grade results for 1999, 2000, and 2001 were unavailable
3. These results are for "Category 1" students who are fully English proficient and did not require special accommodations.
-Arizona Department of Education: AIMS Results
- Arizona Republic: "More Kids pass '05 AIMS"
- Arizona Daily Star: "AIMS Scores Improve Significantly Statewide"
- East Valley Tribune: "Whew! AIMS Test Finally Conquered"
A new national analysis of fiscal responsibility among the states gives Arizona state government a "D-." The Fiscal Discipline Report Card, published by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, grades the states' tax and expenditure limits on five objective criteria.
Tax and expenditure limits emerged after the tax revolt of the late 1970s. California governor Ronald Reagan endorsed the first state tax and spending limit, Proposition 1, for California in 1973. Although Proposition 1 failed, it set a precedent for tax and spending limits across the nation. Since then, 28 states have enacted some form of tax and expenditure limit, including Arizona in 1978.
Unfortunately, these tax and spending limits have failed to adequately instill fiscal discipline. According to the report card, 36 states scored D's or F's. Colorado earned the highest grade, an A-, thanks to its Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment.
MTV's "Punk'd" is a hidden camera show that tries to trick celebrities into embarrassing themselves. Host Ashton Kutcher usually succeeds.
In Arizona, "Punk'd" is the buzzword in an ad campaign funded by a group calling itself Early Childhood Arizona. The campaign promotes state funding of "early childhood development programs," such as all-day kindergarten, claiming these programs will fix everything from high dropout rates to low test scores, and guarantee the success of the bioscience industry in Arizona.
It is spurious to link all-day kindergarten to far-flung benchmarks like economic growth, let alone the biosciences specifically. In a study of 22,000 kindergartners, the National Center for Education Statistics recently found no lasting reading, math, or science achievement differences between children who attend half-day and full-day kindergarten. Considering such findings, it's anyone's guess as to how kindergarten will help the bioscience industry.
Accepting the claims of Early Childhood Arizona will leave Arizona's children, like Kutcher's celebrity marks, punk'd.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor unquestionably was the most powerful woman in America but she was not the centrist or liberal that many have portrayed her as being.
Though the swing justice in many controversial cases, O'Connor far more often voted with her conservative colleagues than not, particularly in cases pitting state autonomy against federal impositions.
More important, O'Connor was one of the most reliable guardians of individual liberty against government excesses. Whether siding with homeowners against eminent-domain abuse or with parents seeking to exercise school choice against teacher unions, O'Connor more often than not protected precious individual liberties.
In choosing a new justice, President Bush should keep firmly in mind the central role of the federal judiciary in safeguarding freedom against majoritarian excesses.
First published in the Arizona Republic, July 5, 2005.
-Cato Institute: "Two Cheers for Sandra Day O'Connor"
-Justice O'Connor's dissent in the eminent domain case, Kelo v. City of New London
-Justice O'Connor's dissent in the federalism and states rights case, Gonzales v. Raich
-Justice O'Connor biographical information
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