Editorial: Arizona aims low on standards

In order to graduate, an Arizona high school student must spend four years studying math and English, but they no longer need to pass a basic test proving that those classes have taught them how to read a passage and interpret a graph.

This disconnect comes as a result of an emergency bill signed into law on Friday by Secretary of State Michele Reagan. High school juniors and seniors who hadn’t yet passed all three sections of the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards were set to retake the test today. This law spared them from having to earn their diploma by first proving that their four years of study have actually taught them something.

It’s always been clear that four years of math courses in the Amphitheater School District can look very different from the same set of classes at the Sunnyside School District. The quality of education a student receives can change radically depending on the school in which they enroll, often a result of the United States’ policy, unique among developed countries, of tying education funding to local property taxes — the richer the neighborhood, the better the schools.

Our one method of ascertaining that a high school diploma meant something concrete was the state-wide standardized AIMS test. It was our tool for ensuring that even the worst, most underfunded schools in the state were providing their students with some baseline skills. Students were required to pass the test in order to graduate, though there were always alternatives: good grades could lead to up to a 25 percent bump in AIMS scores, and students could earn a score of 420 on the SAT or 16 on the ACT for the corresponding section of the AIMS.

For comparison, the ACT considers a score of 18 in English and 22 in Math and reading to be “college readiness benchmarks,” the scores that suggest a student would have a 75 percent chance of earning a C in a first-year college course. Colleges classified as “open,” or colleges that consider it their duty to educate all high school graduates, average a cut-off composite score of 17.

The AIMS standards are not overly difficult.

The new law doesn’t even require students to pass the new AzMERIT test, which will replace the AIMS in 2017. It simply forbids any standardized testing requirement from being implemented before 2018 — other than Gov. Doug Ducey’s new civics test law. This means that Arizona high school graduates will have to prove they have knowledge of the constitution but not prove that they can read it.

Passing some sort of standardized baseline test should be required of all students in order to graduate high school. Whether that test is aligned with state standards, national expectations or some combination of both, a test must be in place. It shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a student who has taken 12 years of school to pass a test proving that they understand the basic math, reading comprehension and writing skills they’ve been taught.

It’s common sense to ensure students have acquired the skills they’ll need in higher education settings, professional jobs and even in their daily lives. If no test or standard holds high schoolers accountable for their education now, who will do it when they have graduated?

A high school diploma simply illustrates a skillset of knowledge. Without a fair and impartial measure of the ability to use those skills, a diploma is just a piece of paper.

— Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat Editorial board and written by its members. They are Nicole Thill, Jacquelyn Oesterblad and Torsten Ward. Follow them on Twitter.


Share this article