Hundreds of high-schoolers fail state exit exam

More than 60 percent of the state's eighth-graders flunk mathematics test

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE - State academic test scores show hundreds of students failing the high school exit exam and making little or no progress on benchmark tests given in third, sixth and eighth grades.

The results of March testing, from the state Department of Education and Early Development, show more than 60 percent of eighth-graders failed the math test. Third-graders' scores hardly moved from spring 2002 exams. Sixth-graders' scores in reading and writing stayed exactly the same, according to statewide summaries released Wednesday.

The majority of high school sophomores, on their first attempt, passed the graduation exam. But nearly one-third of Alaska sophomores still failed math or reading.

At least 640 of the high school seniors failed the exam on their fifth try, but will still get a diploma. Students graduating in 2004 or later must pass the test to graduate.

Alaska Native students continue to fail the benchmarks and the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam at a higher rate than students from other ethnic groups.

Bob Robertson, superintendent of Lower Yukon Schools in Mountain Village, a predominantly Native district, said about one-third of his 65 graduating seniors had not passed the exit exam at the end of this school year.

"We've got a number of juniors who are going to be seniors this year who have not passed all three components of the exit exam," Robertson said.

"We've got to ask ourselves some real difficult questions," he said. "With that percentage we're seeing among the Native Alaskans, the methods that we've been using, obviously, for some reason, somehow, have not been successful."

The exit exam requirement was signed into law in 1998 and the benchmarks in 1999. The tests are designed around Alaska's education standards established by educators and others.

Public school students first tackled the mandatory tests in spring 2000. Some years, scores have risen on one or another of the subject tests, only to drop again the following year.

Subject areas in certain grade levels show little or no loss or gain.

A 1 percent gain or loss does not mean much, said Ed McLain, the Anchorage School District's director of assessment and evaluation.

In sixth-grade reading, about 69 percent of students statewide have passed the test and therefore shown proficiency every year. About 64 percent passed this year.

"Look at the trends," said McLain, former Education Department deputy commissioner. "If we've given a test over four years and you saw a slow but steady increase, that pattern would begin to interest me a lot."

When Alaska third-graders first took the writing test in spring 2000, fewer than half passed. This March, nearly 60 percent passed.

Third-grade students also improved over the four years in math, with 65 percent passing in 2000 and nearly 72 percent passing this spring.

However, troubling trends persist. While about 64 percent of students in sixth grade passed math this year, only about 39 percent of eighth-graders passed math.

Eighth grade scores have dropped slightly in reading, writing and math during the four-year period.

More than one-half of Alaska Native sophomores failed at least one part of the exit exam, a higher percentage than the other ethnic subgroups.

The state also reported poor test scores for students who come from low-income families, move often, are disabled or are not proficient in English.

Superintendents across Alaska are paying close attention. Federal education reform holds serious consequences for schools and districts that do not show yearly progress on test scores.

• On the Net: 2003 exit exam and Benchmark rest results are at

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