State education board considers new exit exam scores

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2002

ANCHORAGE - If the state Board of Education adopts new passing scores for Alaska's High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, more sophomores will pass.

Students graduating in 2004 or later must pass the minimum-skills exams in reading, writing and math to get diplomas. Since sophomores took a practice test in fall 2000, scores have shown some gradual improvement, but amid constant disappointments.

For instance, math scores have been consistently low. And the average score of white students is higher than the Native average.

When 8,659 sophomores first took the real test in spring 2001, roughly 44 percent passed the math portion. About 47 percent passed writing, and 66 percent passed reading.

The Legislature decided the test was too hard and prompted state education officials to create an exam focused on minimum basic skills.

So students took a revised test last March. And if the proposed passing scores for those exams are approved by the board next month, 85 percent of those sophomores will pass writing, 70 percent will pass reading and 64 percent will pass math - all notably improved from previous rounds of testing.

Education officials on Wednesday said the new test - and the dramatic increase in passing scores - is more realistic.

The revised exam is closer to the original intent to graduate students who grasp minimum high school academics, said Mark Leal, state testing coordinator.

"Think of it as the foundation of a house," Leal said. "It gives them the foundation to go on - either to take higher level classes or go into a vocation."

Each test totals 600 points. Questions are weighted differently, depending on the skill being tested.

The committees - which included parents, teachers and students - decided on a passing grade of 322 for the reading test, 275 for the writing test and 328 for the math test.

After committees settled on scores, they were told how many of last year's sophomores would pass the test if the new scores had been used to grade the exams.

Seeing those numbers, only the writing committee made a change, raising its cutoff score and increasing the difficulty, Leal said.

The state Board of Education is taking public comment on the proposed scores until it votes in late September. Officials hope to have the sophomores' March exams graded and returned to students in October.

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