Educators ponder poor eighth grade math test scores

Posted: Monday, June 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Low scores by eighth graders taking the statewide benchmark exam may mean that the test is too hard, according to education officials.

In the four years the test has been given, the drop of eighth-grade math scores does not fit with scores on other grade levels' exams, educators said.

For instance, 65 percent of sixth-graders passed math, according to test results from March 2003 released last week. However, fewer than 40 percent of eighth-grade students passed.

About 70 percent of the high school sophomores passed the math portion of the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

''The eighth grade was out of whack,'' said Harry Gamble, spokesman for the Department of Education and Early Development. ''It was just out of sync with the other scores.''

The education department is proposing changes to the scoring on eighth-grade tests. It would essentially make it easier for students to pass math and writing but would raise the bar on reading, where eighth-grade students collectively have posted higher than expected results.

Had the new cut scores been in place, 68 percent of eighth-graders would have passed the March 2003 reading exam instead of the roughly 80 percent who reportedly passed under the current grading.

About 63 percent of kids passed writing in March. With easier scoring, the pass rate would have been 74 percent.

Math scores would be affected most. This spring, with the current passing cut-off score, 39 percent of eighth-grade students passed. Under the proposed changes, 64 percent would pass.

''We're still testing the exact same items,'' said Cathy Anderegg, assessment administrator for the state department. ''But it was weighted heavily toward an advanced scale. It was not fair to students that have an average concept of math.''

Students with a basic understanding of a subject should pass the test, Gamble said.

The benchmarks and the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam were launched in public schools in spring 2000. They are designed to reflect Alaska's education standards, as established by educators and other people. Private-school students do not have to take the tests.

The goal is that every student eventually pass the tests. The benchmarks can be used diagnostically, to figure out students' weaknesses and teach them better, so they are prepared for the exit exam.

Students take the benchmarks in third, sixth and eighth grade.

Beginning in 10th grade, they take the exit exam, which kids graduating in 2004 and later must pass to graduate. High schoolers have several chances to take and retake the test.

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