67% failed state grad math test

State board to review scores

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

Three-quarters of Alaska sophomores passed the reading portion of a high school graduation qualifying exam this year. But only half passed the writing test, and only a third passed the mathematics test, state education officials said today.

Those scores reflect the passing grades recommended by committees of mostly educators who met mid-June in Anchorage. The scores for each school district won't be available until September.

The committees' recommended passing scores will go to the state Board of Education late this month. The panel is expected to take public comment this summer before making a final decision in September.

The scores shouldn't cause panic, said Education Commissioner Rick Cross at an Anchorage press conference today. Sophomores have two more years to pass the tests, he said. And he said it makes sense that students did better in reading and writing, which are taught throughout the earlier grades, than in math, which requires high school components.

But Cross conceded the state will have to rethink 11th and 12th grade math. The real question is what portions of the math test gave students the most difficulty, he said. That will be known later, and an education summit will be held in September to decide how to improve the schools.

``There isn't any question in my mind that if you want the students to learn at a higher level of skills than they've had in the past, it's going to take more money to do that,'' Cross said.

The Class of 2002, who were sophomores this past school year, are the first students to have to pass the Alaska High School Qualifying Examination to get a diploma. Those who fail will get a certificate of attendance. Students may take the test twice a year for up to three years after leaving school.

Roughly 460 JDHS sophomores joined about 8,275 students in early March in taking the tests. Local students interviewed after the reading test said it wasn't too hard. But they didn't know if they had passed it.

``Maybe this is a wake-up call to boards, teachers, parents that we're talking about a dramatic change needed to get kids to pass this exam,'' Juneau School Board member Alan Schorr said today.

Juneau students probably will score better than the statewide average, he said, but some students won't pass one or more of the tests and JDHS could end up with fewer electives as more remedial classes are needed.

There's some indication that Juneau students also may have found the math test difficult. On a local test of the district's own math standards, given in March, only 27 percent of students taking geometry or sophomores taking advanced math courses passed.

Each of the three state tests was reviewed by a statewide panel of about 20 teachers, parents and others, and it recommended the ``cut scores'' -- the point that marks the passing grade.

The committee members took the tests themselves, and they linked each question to a specific state performance standard in reading, writing or math.

When they set the passing scores, they knew how the questions ranked in difficulty but they didn't know how many students got the questions wrong.

But the state Department of Education already wants to phase in the difficulty of the test by holding the classes of 2002 and 2003 to lower passing grades than the Class of 2004.

Cross, in an earlier press release, said it will take a while for teaching practices and curriculum to be adjusted to the state's performance standards.

The accountability effort could crash unless standards are implemented carefully and students who need help are supported, Cross said.

Aaron Ver, a JDHS senior when he served on the Juneau School Board this past school year, said today students would welcome phasing in the cut scores, but he wasn't sure it would benefit them in the long run.

The idea of standards is to prepare students for the future, Ver said, but he wondered whether lowering the passing grade for two graduating classes would help them when they got their diploma.

``But since they are the first classes to take them, maybe they should be given that leeway,'' Ver said.

Schorr, the Juneau school board member, said he was pleased the committees took an academic approach and set high passing scores. He said he hopes the state Board of Education won't be politically influenced to lower the passing scores. But he said phasing in the passing scores makes sense in order to get public support.

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