Many students still struggling with high school exam

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Education officials say the latest results from the state high school graduation exam confirm what they already knew: Students and schools need more time before the test is used to deny a diploma.

Only 43 percent of high school sophomores tested passed the math section of the high school graduation exam this spring. About 66 percent passed the reading section and 46 percent passed the writing test.

Because of poor test scores last spring, the Legislature approved a bill this year to delay from 2002 until 2004 the requirement that students pass the test to graduate.

''We think we're on track to have sought more time to implement the high stakes of this test,'' Department of Education and Early Development spokesman Harry Gamble said.

Educators are seeing results of benchmark tests in younger grades, and the extra time will give schools more time to work with struggling students in those earlier grades, Gamble said. The delay also gives schools more time to train teachers and make sure they are teaching the materials to be tested.

And it gives the department time to rework the math test, which was criticized by some as requiring too much knowledge of algebra and geometry. The new test will emphasize ''essential skills,'' Gamble said.

For instance, instead of 20 percent of the questions testing knowledge of geometry, just 10 percent will, while measurement questions will increase from 10 percent to 20 percent.

The new version of the math test will probably be given for the first time next spring, Gamble said.

Sophomores this year tested better in math than sophomores last year, but worse in reading and writing.

Last spring, just 33 percent of sophomores tested passed the math test, while about 75 percent passed the reading and 48 percent passed the writing.

The comparisons are not entirely valid, however. A higher percentage of eligible students took the exam this spring than last year. For instance, 88 percent of eligible students took the writing test this year and just 81 percent did last year.

Students may have missed the test because of illness or other reasons, Gamble said.

Many students retaking the test as juniors still struggled. Just 23 percent of juniors taking the math test this spring passed, 21 percent taking the writing test passed and 24 percent taking the reading test passed.

Some of those juniors may have been taking the test for the first time because they were not in Alaska as sophomores or were absent on test day, but many probably were students who failed it the first time around.

Juniors who passed the test as sophomores probably did not retake it, although that was not prohibited, Gamble said.

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