High school graduation test being revamped

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The exam required for high school students to graduate is being revamped with major adjustments made in how the test is scored.

State educators say the number and types of questions will be different. The biggest difference will be the points different subjects are worth in the final grades on the writing, reading and math tests.

On the writing test, for example, composition will be worth more than half of the total score, compared to one-third before. On the math test, geometry will be worth 10 percent of the total math score instead of 21 percent.

Statewide, students have struggled with the test. Of 8,659 Alaska sophomores who took the math exam last spring, about 44 percent passed. About 47 percent passed writing and about 66 percent passed reading. Anchorage posted similar numbers. Students have several chances to take the test until they pass.

''We set the mark pretty high,'' said Harry Gamble, Education Department spokesman. ''We were looking for world-class standards.''

This reworking of the tests was based on recommendations from committees that met last spring, Gamble said.

Most drastically changed is the math test, the one with the highest failure rate. There will be 58 graded questions instead of 64.

The Legislature last spring told the Education Department that the exam should test minimum competency in essential skills.

A nearly complete version of the reformed test will appear in spring 2002. In August 2002, committees will agree on a new passing mark. By October next year, the full new exam will be ready.

Educators are adamant that they are not lowering the bar for graduation.

''We're not dumbing down the test. We're just equalizing it,'' said Tim Steele, an Anchorage School Board member.

Since the exit exam was first given as a trial run in 1999, officials have adjusted cut scores and questions and tinkered with the order in which the three tests are given. The Legislature this year extended for two years, until the class of 2004, the date when the exam becomes a graduation requirement.

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