Details are out on how Kenai Peninsula Borough high school students scored on the first round of the new state exit exam, but the implications are still unfolding.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has released preliminary data breaking out how students scored at different high schools around the district. Under state law, students have to pass to graduate, starting with the Class of 2002. Those who failed portions will have a chance to retake the tests starting Tuesday.
"I really didn't know what to expect," said Mark Leal, the district's director of assessment.
The district's large high schools all scored at or above state averages, with Homer High School having the highest percentages of passing students.
The lowest scores were in the pooled totals of the district's small and correspondence schools: E.L. Bartlett in Tyonek, Homer Flex, Hope, Kachemak Selo, Kenai Alternative, Nanwalek, Nikola-evsk, Port Graham, Susan B. English in Seldovia, Voznesenka and the Connections cyber school.
Scores from the small schools were combined to ensure the confidentiality of individual students' scores. The small schools also had the smallest percentages of eligible students take the test -- about half -- contrasting with 90 percent or more at larger schools.
Leal expects to get more information this weekend, when educators from throughout the state convene for the Alaska Education Summit in Girdwood, beginning Friday. The test's publisher, CTB/McGraw-Hill, is due to release analyses of the results pinpointing which academic concepts students missed in the test questions.
"Right now we are in the dark," Leal said. "When we get those break-outs, it will be of more value to us."
Students must pass all three sections of the exam to earn high school diplomas. Students who are now juniors took the first test in March. Students who failed any section of the test will have four more chances, including next week's, to pass the exam before the end of their senior year and six more chances after that.
Public reaction on the peninsula to the scores has been muted.
Superintendent Donna Peterson reported receiving just one phone call on the matter.
But some people have concerns about the tests and their implications.
Holly Kristiansen, who works as a parent volunteer for the Governor's Council on Disabilities and Special Education, said she has been getting calls from upset parents.
Parents of disabled children fear their children will never graduate under the new rules and consequently will be unable to get jobs and function in the adult world, she said.
"Who will take care of these people?" Kristiansen asked. "If they can't get employment ... then you have sentenced people to poverty."
She called the "certificate of attendance" that students will receive for attending school if they cannot pass the exams "an insult."
The concept of accountability through testing is sound, she said, but the law on the books is flawed.
Kristiansen said the council and other advocacy groups for the handicapped are researching the issue and preparing resolutions to send to the Legislature, asking for delays implementing the exam and revisions to accommodate special students.
"It is one of our A-number-one priorities, to work the kinks out of this and make it more equitable," she said.
Leal has attended meetings with parents and staff to discuss the exam results. Tuesday, he was on a panel discussion about the exams sponsored by the Homer High School Parent-Teacher-Student Organization.
"There is a lot of concern about this year's juniors and sophomores and the short amount of time they have to react," he said.
People also expressed concern about students in special education and the level of math the state is requiring.
"If a student is not proficient in algebra, should they get a diploma?" he asked.
Setting such criteria is the subject of national debate on education standards, he said.
Leal and Gary Whiteley, the director of curriculum, will meet with principal teachers from the small schools to review implications of their low scores, said Rick Matiya, who oversees small school administration from the district's central office.
"I think the results do tell us something," he said.
He expressed concern that students are falling between the cracks when teachers try to cover multiple subjects and multiple grades in the district's smallest schools.
However, rural schools need to match the same standards of accountability as their larger counterparts, he said.
The staff plans to examine how classes are scheduled and how closely curriculum guidelines are followed to make sure teachers are covering all the bases adequately.
"I think the teachable moment is really upon us," Matiya said. "People are paying attention. They are taking the words, 'this is serious,' seriously."
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