Organic Matter: Combine state tests

Children in Arizona schools may spend more time learning and less time testing if state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne has his way.

Horne announced Thursday that he soon plans to go to the state Board of Education and seek approval of his idea to combine Stanford-9 and Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) into a single test beginning with the 2004-2005 year.

The test Horne wants to implement has tentatively been named a norm reference embedded AIMS test.

Some of its questions would be consistent with state standards and thus are nationally normed.

Students would answer about half the number of questions they now respond to on the two separate tests, thus giving teachers more classroom time with them.

Horne's idea is endorsed by the Arizona Education Association and its president Penny Kotterman.

"We have advocated for years that mandated testing be reduced, particularly when testing was duplicative," Kotterman said in a press release Thursday.

"We hope the state Board of Education will carefully review the proposal and full support the concept.

If it's implemented well, we believe it will not only reduce the testing burden on schools but continue to provide good data to districts as well."

Testing and assessment are intended to aid instruction and improve student achievement.

Kotterman said in order for data from the new proposed test to be helpful, it must be valid, reliable and seen as credible measurements.

Finer points of Horne's idea are still to be announced, such as who would put together the test and whether it would be sent out for grading or done in the state.

Officials with the Kingman Unified School District and Kingman Academy of Learning also want some matters clarified, but seemed supportive of the concept when I spoke with them Thursday.

Let's hope members of the state Board of Education will also see the wisdom of Horne's idea, resolve questions yet to be answered about it, and then adopt the proposal to meet the superintendent's goal of implementation next school year.

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Western movies fans, myself included, were saddened last week to learn of the death of character actor Jack Elam at the age of 86.

While he never will be remembered in the same breath as John Wayne, Elam put some pizzazz in many oaters that made them memorable to a generation of western buffs.

He often portrayed a lovable drunk or some other character, which delivered a line that brought a chuckle to audiences.

Elam, who was born in Miami, Ariz., gained notice when he portrayed a bad guy opposite Tyrone Power in the 1951 western "Rawhide."

He had a starring role as a deputy sheriff in the short-lived Western series "The Dakotas" in the early1960s.

Chad Everett, who went on to stardom in "Medical Center," was one of Elam's co-stars in "The Dakotas."

Elam also played a deputy sheriff to James Garner in "Support Your Local Sheriff," a comedy-western in 1968.

He was a wisecracking town character at the outset of the picture, a role he portrayed more than once during an acting career that spanned four decades into the early 1990s.

Elam and Garner teamed again in 1971's "Support Your Local Gunfighter."

What people tended to notice about Elam was his cockeye, the result of a childhood fight in Phoenix, according to an Associated Press story.

He claimed a fellow Boy Scout stabbed him with a pencil in the left eye during an altercation at a troop meeting.

The eye wandered lazily around in its socket the rest of his life and did for Elam what a nose did for Jimmy Durante.

Elam had trouble finding roles that suited him after "Support Your Local Gunfighter." He did not wish to portray a villain with some psychological problem behind his bad behavior, which was the direction westerns began to take in the mid-1970s.

"In the old days, Rory Calhoun was the hero because he was the hero and I was the heavy because I was the heavy," Elam told the Los Angeles Times in 1977.

"Nobody cared what my problem was and I didn't either.

"I robbed the bank because I wanted the money…I've done all kinds of weirdos but I've never done the quiet, sick type.

I never had a problem – other than the fact I was just bad."

Elam died at his home in Ashland, Ore.

of an unspecified ailment.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.