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Some State Law May Make it Easier to Get Out of High School

Phoenix, AZ – Right now any student who makes it through 12 grades and passes
the AIMS gets to graduate. Rep. Rich Crandall said the problem
with all that is there's no real incentive for students to do any
better than the minimum required. And that's not much, as AIMS
measures only what's expected at the 10th grade level. Pass AIMS
in 10th grade and your reward is having to sit through 11th and
12th grades.

(So our whole concept is stuck on this 180 day sitting in a seat.
That's our entire Arizona education system. If you sit for 180
days freshman year, we're going to let you become a sophomore.
Once you're there for 180 days, we don't care what you know, we
don't care how much effort you put into it, we don't care
anything about that, just that you sit in that seat 180 days.)

On Tuesday Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation creating a new
Grand Canyon Diploma. The big difference is that a student can
get it as early as the end of 10th grade by passing a battery of
tests -- more intensive than AIMS -- to prove he or she has
learned everything expected. Students with one of these diplomas
would be guaranteed admission to community colleges. They also
could choose to go to a trade school or stay in high school and
take advance placement courses toward college. What's still to be
decided is if they can simply just drop out and get a job.
Crandall, who chairs the House Education Committee, isn't just
looking at the tail end of the public education system. Earlier
this week he got the governor to sign legislation which says that
a student who can't read at grade level at the end of third grade
won't be allowed to go on.

(If a kid cannot read by the end of third grade, possibly fourth
grade, and you continue to promote them, that kid has the world's
highest chance of dropping out in seventh or eighth grade.)

The law will be effective in the 2013-2014 school year, meaning
it will apply to students entering kindergarten this fall. But
there will be exceptions, ranging from youngsters with
disabilities to those who already have been held back twice
before. Crandall said this is an incentive not just for students.
He said once the state made passing AIMS a requirement for
students to graduate, their parents took much more of an interest
in making sure their youngsters studied hard. Crandall said he
expects the same thing to happen once parents know that promotion
to fourth grade is contingent on having reading skills. And he
said it seems to make the most sense to set that new hurdle at
third grade level rather than earlier or later.

(Nationally, third grade has been established as the grade at
which you need to start reading. You learn to read K through 3.
You read to learn 4 through 12.)

The measure is crafted so it shouldn't come as a surprise to any
parent that his or her child isn't performing academically.
Schools will be required to inform parents when their youngsters
not reading at adequate levels beginning in kindergarten. Parents
also will be told of services that are available to help as well
as what they can do at home. And youngsters who are held back are
given some options, including summer school reading instruction,
intensive instruction during the next academic year and having
the student assigned to a different teacher for reading
instruction. There is one wild card to all of this: The new third
grade reading requirement will kick in only if voters approve
Proposition 100 next week to temporarily hike the state sales tax
by a penny. That's because lawmakers figured it would be wrong to
add new requirements to schools when failure of the measure would
cut state aid to education by $428 million. For Arizona Public
Radio this is Howard Fischer.