State proposing to lower high school exit exam scores

Posted: Sunday, June 11, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska students in the 2002 and 2003 classes won't have to score quite so high on the high school exit exam designed to test proficiency in reading, writing and math.

The state Department of Education and Early Development is proposing to lower the exit exam score for last year's freshmen and sophomores.

The proposed change came in response to statewide public sentiment, said Deputy Commissioner of Education Bruce Johnson.

''One of the things that we heard consistently was the inherent unfairness with what was expected of this year's 10th-graders,'' Johnson said.

State Commissioner of Education Rick Cross said it became clear in recent weeks that the state was moving too fast.

State law requires every student graduating after Jan. 1, 2001 to pass the high school graduation qualifying exam in order to receive a diploma. The tests are based on state academic standards for what students should know.

State Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, who sponsored the law, said he was dismayed.

After taking three years to create the tests, ''Now we have the educational establishment saying they have so little confidence in our system and our students they want to extend this out,'' Bunde said. ''In two years what will the excuse be?''

More than 60 educators, students and parents from around the state will meet in Anchorage next week to set a passing score for the exit exam. The state doesn't yet know how well last year's sophomores did on the first exams.

Many sophomores this year were concerned about having to pass the test, said state Board of Education chairwoman Susan Stitham, who is also a teacher at Lathrop High School.

''A lot of sophomores actually spoke to me (and said) 'this isn't fair that this be dumped on us. We haven't had the benchmark tests and neither have we had instruction that is standards-based,''' she said.

Cynthia Henry, president of the Fairbanks school board, said her initial reaction to the proposal was concern that the testing process would be watered down. But she now supports the idea.

''The preparation for these tests ... the class of 2002 hasn't had that experience in the same way that future classes will have,'' she said. ''Maybe to phase it in has some merit.''

The idea enjoyed unanimous support from the state Board of Education at its meeting last week. The board will make a final decision on the exit exam passing scores at its June 30 meeting.

Johnson emphasized that the state is not lowering the standards but is only acknowledging the imperfections of a standardized test.

''You have got to take that into account when you have high stakes,'' he said. ''If you are denying a diploma ... you have to be absolutely certain you deal with these issues up front.''

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