Thoughts on AIM from a Baltimore County Parent

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AIM and the Baltimore County School System
By Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

AIM (Articulated Instruction Module) is a huge structure of learning objective categories developed by Dr. Barbara Dezmon, Assistant Superintendent in the Office of Equity and Assurance, for all subjects, K-12, in Baltimore County public schools. Dr. Dezmon has copyrighted the material in AIM for possible future profit outside of Maryland. While BCPS uses the program “free of charge,” BCPS employees have written much of its content.

AIM is available for public inspection on the BCPS website. Courses have multiple pages of items for the teacher to evaluate each student every quarter (example: Zoology has 118 items across 26 different learning objective categories). Elementary schoolchildren have about 30 pages of categories.

In 2007, AIM was nearly made mandatory throughout the school system. Strong protests from teachers and parents (including myself) in 2007 resulted in the decision by BCPS to make AIM voluntary. But in late December of 2009, BCPS reversed policy and declared that AIM was to be mandatory. This mandate was retracted, and a committee is now studying AIM.

I testified against AIM in late 2007, at the Board meeting earlier this month, and at a joint hearing of delegates and senators from Baltimore County on Jan. 21, convened with the purpose of learning more about AIM.

A single representative from BCPS attended the Annapolis meeting to discuss AIM: Edward Novak, the liaison between BCPS and governmental agencies.

Mr. Novak was not able to fully answer numerous questions, including:
1) A list of names of the committee members studying AIM;

2) Why Cheryl Bost, the head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO), was physically prevented from entering a BCPS committee meeting on AIM, denied the opportunity to represent the teachers in the committee meeting, and why the meeting was closed to the public;

3) What were the legal and ethical issues involved with an agreement between Dezmon’s copyrighting of AIM and BCPS.

During and after Mr. Novak’s remarks, the legislators expressed their extreme displeasure with Superintendent Hairston and with the administration of BCPS.

AIM cannot accomplish what it is intended to do.

The many hours required to fill out the AIM categories will surely detract from the classroom hours in which teachers teach our children. Making AIM mandatory will also result in increased utilization of substitute teachers, and/or replacement of interactive class time with movies, or other activities with limited teacher interaction. Is this really what we want?

It will require about 100 to 150 hours a year for each teacher to enter data for AIM. Evaluating each student on 100 to 120 distinct criteria results in little if any time for reflection to provide meaningful evaluations. For example, allowing only 10 seconds per item corresponds to 1,000 seconds to evaluate a single student for 100 items, or 7 hours per quarter for a class of 25 students. Since many teachers in middle and high schools have more than 100 students, over 28 hours would be required to complete these evaluations per quarter, or at least 112 hours per year.

The jargon-filled learning categories of AIM are often incomprehensible, even to teachers. The jargon of AIM is especially distressing considering that Dr. Dezmon stated in December of 2007 that the intended audience for AIM was “administrators, teachers, parents, and students.” Dr. Dezmon also recently stated that administrators and teachers should explain AIM categories written in jargon to parents “so that they will understand” (Baltimore Sun, 12/27/09). If parents are part of the intended audience, why was AIM written in wording that they cannot understand? Since a laudable goal of AIM is to increase parent participation, parents wanting clarifications about their child’s AIM evaluations will probably want to set up conferences with their teachers. Exactly where will this time come from?

AIM is also compromised by ethical concerns, notably Dr. Dezmon’s agreement with the County to develop AIM with BCPS infrastructure while maintaining her copyright, as recently reported by Liz Bowie in the Baltimore Sun. Dr. Dezmon and the Superintendent have subsequently attempted to make AIM’s implementation mandatory, in 2007 and again in 2009.

To my knowledge, the agreement between Dr. Dezmon and “the County” has never been made public.

Next Step: The Baltimore County Board of Education will take up AIM at their Work Session meeting Tuesday, Jan. 26, at 6:30 p.m., at the Education Support Services (ESS) building, on the Greenwood Campus at 6901 N. Charles Street. The agenda for this meeting states that the Area Assistant Superintendents will discuss AIM.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Ph.D. is a member of the PTAs of Ridgely Middle School and Loch Raven High School, and a member of the Central Area Education Advisory Council of Baltimore County Public Schools. The views expressed here are her own.

Recent media coverage of the AIM Program:
Most Baltimore Co. teachers sign petition opposing AIM (Baltimore Sun, January 23, 2010)
Ethics issues raised over AIM program (Baltimore Sun, January 20, 2010)
Too much information (Baltimore Sun Editorial, January 11, 2010)
County schools put complex grading system on hold amid teacher backlash (Baltimore Sun, January 6, 2010)
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