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July 16, 2009

Host: Ted Simons

AIMS Test Results

  |   Video
  • Arizona Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne talks about the latest results of the AIMS test.
  • Tom Horne - Arizona Superintendent of Schools
Category: Education

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Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The future spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks will be on Indian land near the loop 101 and Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale. The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community announced today that it will build a $100 million spring training complex for the Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies to share. The facility includes an 11,000 seat stadium that's supposed to be ready for the 2011 Cactus League season. Scores from the latest AIMS test are out and there is some improvement. Over half a million students in the third, eighth and tenth grades took the test last April. 69% passed the math portion of the test, up from 67% a year ago. 71% passed reading, up from 68%. And 80% passed the writing portion of the test, up from 69% in 2008. Writing scores have fluctuated a bit over the last few years prompting officials to rework that part of the test. Here now to talk about the AIMS test is Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction. Good to see you again.

Tom Horne: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Your thoughts on improving test scores.

Tom Horne: It's been consistent. The difficulty has not changed since 2005 and yet every year, the scores have gone up. The students are learning more and the teachers are doing a good job and we're seeing a constant improvement on the tests.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask, what's going on here? Why are these improving?

Tom Horne: Since I took office in 2003, our emphasis has been academic standards in the classroom. You have testing and -- and accountability for the results of the test. Accountability of the schools and teachers and of the students and so they have to pass the test to graduate and that has an effect in making people feel a greater sense of urgency to make sure that the kids know what they need to learn.

Ted Simons: Critics will say that the teachers are teaching the test more and the kids are still not getting a well rounded education. Your response.

Tom Horne: It measures the standards. That's what AIMS standard stands for. The standards are what the teachers have agreed to teach and so every question on the test is a measure of a performance objective. And so the AIMS test is only testing what the kids have been taught. How do you teach the reading test? We ask the kids to read a short passage and answer questions. The only way to each that test is to do a lot of reading. I've heard kids complaining they're getting too much reading and that's music to my ears. The only way to teach the writing test is to have them write a lot so they can write good grammar and good organization, and that's the only way to teach the writing. The math, to be able to do problems and so teaching the test is what we want. Because we're testing the standards and in addition, we want the teachers to teach what they like to teach, but as a minimum, they must teach the standards.

Ted Simons: And I think that's where the criticism comes in. You'll hear people say an AIMS test is great. You're responding to what you're taught, but doesn't necessarily measure what a student knows.

Tom Horne: It does, in terms of the standards. We want the students to do --

Ted Simons: Those standards, but maybe not more well rounded stuff. The criticism goes along those lines.

Tom Horne: I do agree we want more than just teaching the standards. We want the teachers to teach what they're interested in in depth, because teachers can be creative with that. I'm a big advocate of the arts and history, which we don't test. Although I advocate we do teach that. But what the AIMS tests is, do the kids understand the questions and do problems and write in a well grammatical way with good content?

Ted Simons: We had a taskforce here that suggested that the AIMS test doesn't necessarily prepare kids in terms of college and career. College and career readiness lacking with this AIMS test?

Tom Horne: That's true, it's a 10th grade test. They get one chance the sophomore year, two their junior and the taskforce, that we must keep the AIMS, it was an important part of the taskforce's questions -- should we keep the AIMS? Yes. But in addition to that, we need an 11th grade test and it wouldn't be at high stakes but would help to determine are the kids ready for college and jobs.

Ted Simons: Was there a 9th and 11th grade test?

Tom Horne: I believe the essence of what the taskforce said, which I agree is we need an 11th grade test, that kids don't have to pass it to graduate, but gives us a good sense to determine if they're ready for college or the workforce. But the AIMS test, it's the high stakes test. If a student has a degree, we know the student knows and can do these things.

Ted Simons: We're seeing great fluctuations in the writing test. What's going on?

Tom Horne: We're trying to make objective something that's inherently subjective. You have human beings looking at essays and deciding how good they are. We have four people reading every paper in high school. It's an expensive test, where we check to see if people are grading in a consistent way and double check, even after they've been trained, we look at samples of the papers to see if they're consistent. And now we're going have short answer to make it more objective. It's a constant -- more objective.

Ted Simons: I had read somewhere that the multiple choice questions might be asked in the writing portion. That makes sense.

Tom Horne: There is some knowledge about writing that you can test with short answers. It's no substitute for the actual writing itself and that's why we spend so much money on the writing portion. It's important that students are able to write with good content.
Ted Simons: The eighth grade reading and math tests, what's going on there?

Tom Horne: People like to joke it's hormones, but when the standards were first set, they were set in silos. And the eighth grade teachers happened to set a high standard, so their kids didn't get as many questions right. The last time we revised, we tried to smooth it out. We didn't do it totally with eighth grade. It's historical.

Ted Simons: Changes coming up with the AIMS test? What to look for?

Tom Horne: Some changes in the writing test to make it as objective as we can. In the long term, raising standards as -- as the society accepts the idea that kids have to pass a test to graduate, making the test harder as we go along, as we get better at teaching the standards so we get higher and higher standards. With those higher standards, more expectations on the kids and teachers as well.

Ted Simons: The budget cuts, as far as education are concerned, budget cuts everywhere. But education getting hit to a certain degree. How did that work out?
Tom Horne: I think to be fair to the legislature, you have to point out that the budget cuts to the schools is, at worst, about 2%. Now, other parts of the government have been cut 20% or 30%. My department has been cut 20%. And the schools cut is about 2%. There was no need to lay off teachers. And you can cut back on things that are less essential like not buying new textbooks all the time.

Ted Simons: Any kind of cut at all, whether a 2% or more, regardless of what it is, it's still less than what it was and you're still trying to improve AIMS scores. Are they going to suffer?

Tom Horne: I don't think so. In the long term, when the economy turns around, my job is to advocate at legislature to give a priority. And if we do get more resources and shown very good results for a situation where resources are not good, in fact, above the national arrange on the national test which all of our kids take -- a lot of people don't realize we're above the national average on that. And the S.A.T. college entry test and we're doing a good job with the resources we have and when the economy does better and our resources are available, and if the legislature gives us a higher priority, I believe we'll be among the top states in the country.

Ted Simons: Very good. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Horne: Thank you

State Trust Land

  |   Video
  • Former State Land Commissioner Mark Winkleman talks about his oversight of the State Land Department during a historic time for sales of State Trust Land.
  • Mark Winkleman - Former Arizona State Land Commissioner
Category: Government

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Ted Simons: Former Phoenix city councilwoman Maria Baier is Arizona's new state land commissioner. Tonight, we'll hear from the person who previously held that post. Mark Winkleman led the Arizona Land Department through a period of record-setting land sales. The department is required by the state constitution to sell and lease state trust land to maximize revenue for schools. But some people would like to protect some of that land from future development, including former Arizona Governor and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt would like to see trust lands become a larger vision of land use planning in the state.

Bruce Babbitt: Planning has for the most part in Arizona, kind of been focused on the next subdivision, the details regarding the next shopping center. Kind of inward looking at development, piece by piece by piece. What gets lost in that is a larger vision of what the special relations ought to be. Communities in relation to the landscape. What landscapes do we want to preserve and have intact for our descendants, say, a hundred years from now? What should Arizona look like at the end of this century and what steps do we need to take now to protect those open spaces and make sure they relate to important natural features and wildlife and endangered species and just good planning?

Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the land department's role in managing Arizona's public lands is former State Land Commissioner, Mark Winkleman. Good to see you.

Mark Winkleman: My pleasure, good to be here again.

Ted Simons: The role of the state land department, what is it?

Mark Winkleman: That's a great question because very few people understand it. And as I was land commissioner, I had to speak all the time and educate people. It's a gift that the federal government gave to the state at statehood and this was common in the end of the states as we moved to the west, they were concerned about being able to take care of their citizens and educate the citizens, so the idea was let's set aside some land and generate as much revenue as you can and it goes to help fund education. That's what is going on.

Ted Simons: How does it work? Does the state land commission seize public land? I like it -- get the two to meet and make it beneficial for the state and schools?

Mark Winkleman: Well, the land was set aside at statehood. You didn't get to choose the land. It is what it was. And there was about 10 million acres set aside, so you've got a tremendous amount of land. The land commissioner is essentially a trustee of this. You do what's in the best interest of the trust, in terms do you sell some land, lease some land? You do the analysis -- is that the highest and best use, the right time and best piece? And that's the analysis that goes on.

Ted Simons: As far as what we had at statehood and what we have now, what are the numbers again?

Mark Winkleman: We started with a little over 10 million and now we've got 9.3 million. Most is still in trust.

Ted Simons: How does that compare to other states?

Mark Winkleman: We have more. New Mexico is about the same, a little bit less and all the other states have less.

Ted Simons: How much of this land we still have, how much is leased?

Mark Winkleman: More of it is still leased, but not for commercial purposes. About 8 million of the 9 million is leased for grazing purposes. You have ranches throughout the state in rural Arizona, most of which are on state trust lands or federal land and they act as stewards for the land. We don't make a lot of money, but they look after the lands. The department doesn't have the resources to do that.

Ted Simons: I guess the biggest -- most of the land would be the grazing in rural areas. A lesser amount would be commercial.

Mark Winkleman: Right.

Ted Simons: Leasing, but I'm guessing that's where the money is.

Mark Winkleman: Absolutely. That's where the money is.

Ted Simons: How much and where is this land?

Mark Winkleman: It's spread out. As a general rule, the department tries to lease land that's for commercial leases and sell land that's for residential uses. As a perpetual trust, you can argue we ought not to sell any. Lease it all. But the reality is you just -- people that are going to own homes and the lenders that are going to make loans, they want to own fee title so it's not practical. But on a commercial side, there's an industry that's very used to financing ground leases and building on ground leases and that's generally what we do and some of the biggest projects in the state are on state land trust leases.

Ted Simons: The best way, and it's interesting how you have to balance. It's quite a balance between environmental concerns and developmental and just getting the best deal you possibly can. Talk about that and what you look for when something's happening.

Mark Winkleman: Yeah, it is a balancing act and a lot of very serious competing interests. There's a group of people who would be happy if not another acre would be developed. They would like to save everything. And there's some who say it should go to education and we ought to develop all of it. The reality is you can't develop all 9 million and there's not enough water and not enough demand. Some is pristine land that ought to be preserved and others sit in the middle of urban growth and should be developed and can generate money for education.

Ted Simons: We saw Babbitt talking about his concerns and about setting aside some lands until you can figure out a better way to conserve. Let's hear that sound bite right now.

Bruce Babbitt: I think the Arizona legislature should pass a statute saying to each of the 15 counties you have the legal authority to look at the state lands in your county and to designate 50% of those lands for open space and those lands will be held off the market for 50 years.

Ted Simons: What do you think of that idea?

Mark Winkleman: I have respect for him, but the reality is, we don't need to have all of the land in every county in play. So he's saying let's just take some out automatically for 50 years. Well, you could certainly do that, but the reality is it wouldn't change the way the department operates much at all. In fact, that's what is happening anyway. We have a staff that, you know -- we can't keep up with the urban land. The land that nobody is particularly concerned with development -- should be developed and think we'll be able to go to all 16 counties and develop any significant amount is not realistic given the way the department is funded and the resources it has. So his idea, I can't argue with, but in effect, it exists already.

Ted Simons: In terms of reclassifying land for conservation needs, talk about that process and what's looked into a reclassification.

Mark Winkleman: There's a process that was passed by the legislature back in the '90s, the Arizona preserve initiative, and that allows cities to come in and apply for land to be suitable for reclassification. That's been done over the past years. 40,000 acres -- this is all urban lands and probably not what Babbitt is talking about. Let's set it aside, and part of this legislation, the legislation provides matching funds so a community or trust can come in and raise half the money and the state provides the other half. The city of Phoenix has been the one entity that's been successful in using that and acquired quite a bit of acreage for their preserves. The desert foothills land trust in the cave creek area and then Pima county used it earlier in southern Arizona.

Ted Simons: Are there legal concerns regarding all of this?

Mark Winkleman: Well, the program was suspended in terms of the way it used to operate because it probably should have gone back and had a constitutional amendment and the department used to deed restrict the lands before they sold it. We don't do that anymore and the cities have to worry about is a developer going to outbid me? Given the real estate economy in the last couple of years, that hasn't happened and I'm sure that's one of the reasons that the city of Phoenix has been as active because they were certain they would be able to accomplish their goals. The price they pay is the developable value of the land. It's not like they're getting a discount. But they've not had the fear that they're going to have a lot of homebuilders trying to outbid them.

Ted Simons: Indeed. I imagine right now, it's probably not the wisest time for a steward of the land to put some of that land for sale.

Mark Winkleman: That's why you've seen the department sell little land the last few years, the only land that's going to trade is at low prices and it's a perpetual trust. You have the ability to look to the long term. You could say, what makes sense for the next decade or the next 50 years? And there's few situations where somebody has the ability to look in that kind of long-term vision.

Ted Simons: In terms of long-term vision and the department itself, how is it funded? Because virtually everything is getting hammered right now. I know you're not the commissioner anymore, but how is the department funded and what are the future ideas for funding the department?

Mark Winkleman: I was the commissioner during most of this budgetary process and obviously, that hasn't been wrapped up yet. The department has chronically been under-funded and there needs to be a change. This year is a landmark situation. I've argued we're legally a trust and every trust I've ever dealt with funds its operations out of what it makes and there isn't any reason that the land department should be any different. And you've seen the last several years, we've produced sales of almost $2 billion, a huge amount. We certainly have enough to pay our own way. The annual budget has been going down, but as high as $17 million and down to $13 million now. But we easily can fund that from the proceeds that we generate. And I think that makes sense and the pitch this year and probably the one good thing that's come out of this is legislature, take us off the general fund. We can help you with your problem of balancing the budget. Let us use some of the money we generate to fund ourselves and it looks like that's going to succeed this time.

Ted Simons: Looks like, but you're not sure about that, are you?

Mark Winkleman: The governor vetoed most of the budget and there's a special session that's ongoing and unfortunately for the land department, its budget was caught up in some of the vetoes. That part is not controversial, so I expect it to be part of the budget that's ultimately passed. But, yes, right now they don't have an official budget.

Ted Simons: Your thoughts on your successor and advice you would give to her from what you have seen? It's a different world right now than it was for a lot of years you were in office. But what would you tell her?

Mark Winkleman: Maria and I had lunch the yesterday, and she asked me a lot of questions. I think she's a tremendous choice. She's got a great background. I expect her to do extremely well. When I took the job, I knew nothing about the land department. I needed all the help I could get. Maria has a wealth of knowledge and she doesn't need that kind of help. I wish her a lot of luck. The economy is terrible, the budget pressures are as bad as -- pressures are as bad as it's been. The staff is significantly lower than it had been and yet the tasks are much the same and so it's how do you do as much as you can with resources that are clearly inadequate? And that's not just the land department, that's a lot of agencies. But it's frustrating from the land department because you've got the ability to do so well and produce so much money, and by the way, it goes to education and that's a pretty good cause.

Ted Simons: Before we let you go, I know you've moved on and taken on responsibilities with Mortgages Limited and which is responsible for high-rise condos in Tempe and some things downtown. Troubled history to say the least. For those who are worried that those condos will never be finished, what are you seeing?

Mark Winkleman: Well, that deal's a heck of a mess. I guess you can say I enjoy challenges and this is a big one. I'm stepping in at the request of the board to help them go through these -- there's about 60 loans secured by some of the projects you mentioned. What happens to any particular one remains to be seen. We're going to come in and do what's in the best interest of the investors and there's about 1700 investors that put money in that organization. And so, you know, hopefully those projects will get finished but when and how, those are the things I'm going to be working on for the next two years. I've got my work cut out for me.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Mark Winkleman: Thanks for having me.