Committee meets this week to score passing point for new tests

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Education officials from around the state will be meeting here this week to determine a complex method of scoring the exams that will decide the fate of thousands of Alaska students each year.

The state will be setting cutoff scores for some new exams in reading, writing and math that Alaska public school students will be required to pass if they hope to earn their high school diplomas.

Sophomores took the first such tests in March.

Committees including 63 teachers, administrators and other people from around the state are gathering in Anchorage to review the questions that the sophomores answered and decide how many of those questions the students should be required to get right.

By Wednesday, the committees will make their recommendations about how much the students need to know in order to graduate. The recommendations will be turned into scores ranging between 100 and 600.

Results from the first tests are due back to students, their families and schools this fall. Students who fail after multiple chances at the tests will get certificates of attendance for their 13 years of schooling.

But for the first two years that the exams are required, or 2002 and 2003, students will be able to earn diplomas with a slightly slower score than later classes. The final, higher scores are being phased in.

The cutoff score committees include some of Alaska's top teachers: former state teacher of the year Elaine Griffin of Kodiak, Mat-Su teacher of the year Patricia Truman, and Sandy Schoff, math coordinator for the Anchorage School District.

There are teachers from White Mountain, Kotzebue, Metlakatla and other villages from one end of the state to the other. Principals, school board members and a number of parents are signed up as well.

''We tried to put together a balanced committee representing all ethnic groups, male, female, big city, big school, small city, small school, all of our regions,'' said Bruce Johnson, deputy commissioner of education.

Rural areas get a bigger percentage -- two-thirds of the representatives vs. one-third from urban areas, he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Truman, who teaches language arts at Palmer Junior Middle School, said she'll be glad to have the issue settled.

''It was a year of intense feelings about the benchmarks and the high school qualifying exams,'' Truman said.

Students taking them for the first time this year were worried.

As a middle school teacher, she figures she'll leave the meetings with a better sense of what to tell her students and parents to get them ready for high school. ''It will be awesome for me as an eighth-grade teacher.''

The questions on the tests given in March will be placed in order for the committees, from the one most students got right to the question the fewest students answered correctly.

That will tell committee members how difficult Alaska sophomores found each question.

The committees will look at that order of questions and set their proposed cutoff line for a passing score somewhere along the list. They will have no information about what percentage of the students answered any of the questions or how well students did in any part of the state, officials with the state Department of Education said.

''They are looking at it in the purest sense, what should a student know,'' said state Education Commissioner Rick Cross.

But when the state Board of Education makes its decisions, it will know what percentage of Alaska students would pass or fail given the recommended scores.

Information will be available by mid-September about how boys did compared with girls, each ethnic group, each school and each district.

The state is using a scoring system similar to that used for the SAT, a widely used college entrance exam. For the SAT, students earn between 200 and 800 points. The state is using a score along a scale rather than percentages so that scores can be compared and analyzed from year to year, although the test questions will change.

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