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Student test scores up, but Native learning gap continues

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska students in third, sixth and eighth grades showed improved scores overall on latest round of state-required benchmark tests in reading, writing and math taken in March.

But the decline in math scores between third and eighth grade remains, as does a large gap in the scores of Alaska Native students' and the higher scores of white students.

This was the third year students took the benchmarks. The tests function as an academic barometer as students head toward the high school graduation qualifying exam, which is taken in 10th grade. Students graduating in 2004 or later must pass that exam to graduate.

Shirley Holloway, state commissioner of education, called the benchmark results very encouraging and said the numbers show public schools are on track with the state's school improvement plan.

State officials said at least 9,500 Alaska public school students at each grade level took the benchmarks exams.

Statewide, third-graders have improved in all areas since the first issue of the test in 2000. Roughly 75 percent passed reading and about 71 percent passed math. In writing, 58 percent passed -- a 9.2 percent increase from the same test two years ago.

Sixth-grade students showed a slight drop in reading but improved in both writing and math.

In eighth-grade classrooms, kids have increasingly averaged better math scores, with roughly 40 percent passing this year. Their reading and writing scores dipped slightly, to about 81 and 66 percent respectively.

''It's a small decrease, but we tested almost 10,000 kids,'' said Mark Leal, state director of assessment. ''It's troubling because we want to be seeing everything going the other way. So it's an area that we really want to look at.''

State education officials said the disparity between white and Native students' scores remains the most troublesome point of the results.

On eighth-grade math exams, 20 percent of Alaska Native students passed, compared with 50 percent of white students. About 43 percent of Alaska Native sixth-graders passed reading, while 82 percent of their white classmates got passing scores.

''To eliminate the gap will require a deep commitment from all of us -- parents, teachers, school board members, policymakers, businesses, everybody,'' Holloway said.

Since the benchmarks started, both Native and white students have shown gradual improvement on the three subjects, but the gap remains Leal said.

Also consistent is a drop-off in math scores. About 71 percent of third-grade students passed, with about 64 percent of sixth-graders and roughly 40 percent of eighth-graders earning passing grades. A similar decline has been evident in previous years' test scores.

Leal said the passing grades for all three tests were created by different committees, so eighth-grade tests may be graded to a higher standard than those in lower grades.

''Even though we set a high bar there, we're going up,'' Leal said. ''Not very fast, but we're going up.''

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