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Taking AIMS

To the Editor,

Regarding Margaret Regan's "Examining the Exam" (April 27): Many folks will likely reply to this article about the AIMS test. I won't join the chorus harping on the obvious political motivation behind the standards movement. Let's look at the test itself.

If the example questions are representative, the test is mediocre taken on its face. For examples that are meant to be precise enough to gauge concepts absurdly known as "R-P1/PO4," "3.6.3" and "4.4.1," the questions themselves are glaringly sloppy.

"How would you define 'cyberspace?'" As a long-time programmer, certainly by none of the definitions offered.

Simplify the algebraic expression? The original expression of linear and quadratic terms is simpler than the cubic result. Three of the four answers aren't even mathematically equivalent to the original. You aren't testing "simplifying," you're testing "equality."

The geometry question is better. All four answers are sufficient to make the two triangles equivalent, but only one uses the ASA property.

But by what stretch of the imagination will any high-school graduate ever need to remember the ASA jargon? I loved geometry in school, minored in math, and have a masters in physics. And I promise that no high-school graduate will ever need to use ASA again. They most certainly will need to be able to recognize that each of the four answers is sufficient to constrain the triangles to be equivalent.

So one question is just meaningless techno-PC crap. One question can be answered without using the property it's supposed to test for. And one question supplies four correct answers but requires that you throw three of them out because you didn't reach the answer the "right" way.

The test is mediocre, but the design of the test doesn't even reach the level of the standards it purports to support. By borrowing from the model used by the SATs, IQ tests and other "achievement" tests, AIMS assumes that testing for a level of minimum competence is equivalent to testing for an expected level of achievement in future schooling. Let's ignore the very real question of whether achievement tests themselves are crap.

Many of the students taking AIMS will never pursue a college education. AIMS isn't meant to subject the students to triage for future education. We already have tests for that. AIMS seeks to be an "instrument" of standardization. By suggesting that all students exceed the standard, it is suggesting that all citizens should meet this standard.

The basic design of achievement tests like the SATs is to stratify the students like different substances in a centrifuge or chromatograph. The questions are made hard to ensure that even the "brightest" students are challenged. The grading uses (or misuses) sophisticated statistical techniques to look for correlations between questions and between students.

The basic design of a test for the minimum competence desired of a citizen is much different. You aren't attempting to precisely locate a student's median competence level like some intellectual center of gravity. You're setting a minimum acceptable level of competence. A minimum--not an average.

If standards testing for students is desirable (as opposed to the radical idea of holding teachers and administrators to firm standards), the test should do what it says. To test for an average achievement level you spread the student's scores across a range of a standard ruler (200-800 for the SATs). To test for a minimum acceptable level of competence, on the other hand, you require everybody to surpass that minimum in all regards.

Make the test much easier--but require every student to keep trying until they pass at the 100 percent level. Since when is 70 percent of a minimum acceptable? Every student should get every question right.

And maybe in a few years when you go to McDonald's the kid at the register will be able to make change.

--Rob Seaman


Get Lost

To the Editor,

Whoever wrote "Gathering Rosebuds In May" (The Skinny, May 4) should get the hell out of town. Of, course, with his or her attitude, I wonder where he or she would go because undoubtedly he or she would find fault with anyplace he or she might resettle.

I am a frequent reader of Tucson Weekly and I realize that your chief goal in publishing is to criticize the Star and the Citizen, but to come crashing down on Tucson as a whole by calling it a "two-bit toaster oven of a town" is a bit too much. I will agree that the media, both TV and the newspapers, should stop harping on something that we all know is going to happen every year. Those of us who are transplants and have leaned to live with the summer heat and humidity would just like to let it come and go unnoticed.

I could not believe that the writer considers San Diego dullsville. The writer must be so dull that he or she couldn't recognize all there is to do in San Diego if all the events got up and bit the writer.

--Priscilla V.H. Walker

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