PHOENIX - Arizona high schoolers may soon be rid of having to pass AIMS - or any standardized test - to graduate.
The state House voted Tuesday to scrap the battery of tests known as Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards. While it has been administered for more than a decade, it has been a graduation requirement only since 2006.
HB 2425 now goes to Gov. Jan Brewer.
Matthew Benson, her press aide, said his boss wants to study the details. But absent some problem, he said, she will sign the measure because it will help implement the new Common Core curriculum in Arizona schools.
"At the heart of Common Core is the notion of implementing more stringent internationally benchmarked standards," Benson said. "She is 100 percent supportive of the concept," as it includes a test to see how well students here are doing in comparison with their counterparts in other states. By contrast, AIMS is an Arizona-specific test.
Vince Yanez, executive director of the state Board of Education, said AIMS remains a requirement for current seniors. And he said the board will keep the test in place for those who are now juniors, many of whom have already taken it.
But sophomores will be AIMS-free. If the state Board of Education eventually agrees, they instead will be administered the PARCC test - short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers - in their senior year.
Yanez said those tests in English and math will effectively serve as a final exam on what students are supposed to have learned. While he would expect seniors to be able to pass PARCC, Yanez said it would technically be possible for students who have otherwise good grades to be able to graduate without actually passing.
The new assessment process also will replace AIMS tests and Sanford 9 exams that are now administered in lower grades.
While there was only some opposition during Tuesday's House debate to eliminating AIMS as a graduation requirement, what provoked more controversy was the question of what will replace it.
Some lawmakers view the Common Core curriculum - and that nationally standardized test that will go with it - as an improper intrusion by the federal government into an issue of strictly local concern.
Common Core, in essence, is a list of what students are expected to learn at various points in their education.
For example, fourth-graders should be able to determine a theme of a story, drama or poem from details in the text. And high-schoolers should be capable of interpreting parts of a math expression, such as factors and coefficients.
Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, said the AIMS test has been "dumbed down" since it was first mandated as a graduation requirement for the class of 2006, making it less of an impediment to graduation.
"But I'm even more embarrassed that we're just going to dissolve it and look to a national organization, saying, in essence, that we can't do it on our own, we're not qualified to do it on our own, so we're going to go ahead and ask the federal government to do it," she said.
Rep. Carl Seel, R-Phoenix, said lawmakers have little information about PARCC.
"We don't know what that test is going to look like," he complained, since those details have been been left to the state Department of Education.
But Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, a chief proponent of Common Core, told her Republican colleagues who control the House that Common Core originated not from Washington, but over many years from governors, school officials and others from around the nation to set standards for reading, writing and math.
Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, pointed out that students in lower grades in Arizona schools already are being taught according to the new curriculum and are no longer being taught according to the AIMS standards.
"If this (AIMS) test remains, we are going to be testing them on something that doesn't align with what's in their classroom right now," Mesnard said.
"I will not do that to the kids of this state," he continued. "I won't screw over the kids of Arizona to make some kind of political statement."
But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said lawmakers are giving up on AIMS too quickly.
He agreed AIMS has been "dumbed down," and some students are even allowed to graduate without passing it.
Kavanagh argued, though, that scrapping AIMS at this point means "no accountability," especially as the state Board of Education has yet to formally decide to adopt PARCC.