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Taking AIMS

posted Friday March 30th, 2012

Sophie takes the AIMS test next month, along with her third grade classmates. There will be some accomodations — more time, some (literal) wiggle room — but she will take the AIMS test.

Let that sink in.

It drives me nuts. I get the argument for standardized tests — I just don’t agree with it, not when I see the results. I don’t mean the test scores, I mean what it’s done to our schools. To my school, anyway. Teachers are paralyzed and pressure-cooked, it’s all about numbers. It’s incredibly depressing. This “teaching to the test” thing is ridiculous, and when you have a kid lagging behind, it’s ridiculous to the nth degree – since every day I think about things Sophie (or any other kid, really) should be learning instead.

“What’s this on her math worksheet?” the babysitter asks about some odd-looking geometry problem. “Oh, I know.” (She graduated with a degree in special ed she refuses to use, she’s that frustrated with the education system around here.) “It’s for AIMS.”

And then there’s the whole matter of Sophie pulling down the school’s average score, a number that matters more, it seems, than anything else in public education today.

Awkward. I’ve been trying not to dwell on it.

Today I had lunch with a lovely woman. We met because we both have kids with Down syndrome, so we have that in common, but let’s just say that when it comes to politics, I’m James Carville to her Mary Matalin.

She’s well-versed in education law, and ran (polite) circles around me over couscous salads on a pretty patio. When I mentioned that Sophie (who’s a few years older than her daughter) would be taking the AIMS test (“Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards,” our state’s version of the standardized tests, if that wasn’t already apparent)  next month, she saw the look on my face.

“I know how you feel,” she said. “But let me tell you my AIMS story.”

It goes something like this. This mom met another mom with a kid with Down syndrome. That kid’s older than either of ours, he’s 20 now.

“Make sure your kid takes the AIMS test,” she told my friend. “And make sure it’s the real one.” (Apparently there’s an alternative test they give to really cognitively challenged kids.)

Her reasoning? “Your kid needs to be able to sit still and fill in bubbles on a test sheet, to learn to complete the process. Even if she bombs.”

I couldn’t hide the look on my face. My friend continued.

“The tests will get harder and harder,” this mom told her. “Your kid will do worse and worse. But keep doing it. Your kid will learn to sit still, to fill in bubbles. It’s important.”

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. “WHY?!” I demanded, teeth clenched. My friend shushed me.

“Because someday, your kid will need to sit still to take the SAT test, so she can go to college.”

She sat back with a big smile on her face. For a minute I smiled, too, imagining ivy-covered walls and university sweatshirts. Then my smile was gone.

I thought about saying, “But wait. If Sophie bombs the AIMS test every time, what will happen when she takes the SAT? I still don’t get the point.”

Instead, I changed the subject.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, public school by Amysilverman

4 Responses to “Taking AIMS”

  1. I think you and I may be on the same page here. Lydia is now eligible for the AIMS A which is the alternative test. We feel that this will show Lydia’s true knowledge base and allow her to perform better. If she is required to take a standardize test, it should at least be a test that is appropriate and ability based.

  2. Love your writing!

  3. I think the argument for having children with intellectual disabilities take standardized tests is that it makes educators more accountable for teaching them something. This isn’t my argument, just one I’ve heard related to support for No Child Left Behind from stakeholders of the disability community.

  4. Erin — Thank you. That makes a lot of sense!

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