Hundreds of high school juniors will get something besides Christmas cards in the mail over the next few days.
Thursday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District received the scores from the second round of the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, often called the exit exam.
About a hundred students retaking the tests passed in each category, but hundreds more still have to clear the hurdle of the state-mandated academic competency tests.
"I really didn't know what to expect," said Mark Leal, the district's assessment director, who is in charge of analyzing test results. "I am hoping we do better in March. We will have had more time to work with those students."
The students and teachers had a handicap going into the second round of the tests, which were administered in October.
School opened at the end of August, and the scores from the first tests, given in March, were not available until the second week in September. That only allowed one month to prepare for the second round, he said.
Under state law, this year's juniors are the first class that must pass the three-part exams before receiving high school diplomas. On the first round of testing, given late in their sophomore year, only about one third, statewide, passed all the sections.
The Kenai Peninsula district had 860 sophomores last year eligible to take the first exam. About 765 students did take the tests. The percentages passing on the first try were 79 percent in reading, 49 percent in writing and 38 percent in mathematics.
The other 95 students, new students and those who failed any section of the March exam, were supposed to take the second round of tests this fall.
More than 400 students participated in the second round. Students did not need to retake any section they already had passed. The numbers passing this time were 102 for the reading section; 94 for the writing; and 104 for the math.
To avoid a delay over Christmas break, which began with the close of business Friday, the district central office is mailing the results directly to parents.
Percentages of those passing the second round were similar to or a few points higher than state averages. Pass rates of the March and October tests are not directly comparable.
"They did a lot worse. But it's a different group of kids," Leal said.
"Some of the kids who passed the test (in March) have left the state, and we have new kids. It's not a static group."
Leal estimated that between 400 and 430 peninsula juniors still have not passed everything. Most of those are having trouble with the mathematics section.
The school board met with the district administration Dec. 4 to discuss test results, including the results of the first round of the exit exam. The board concluded that examining ways to better deliver
mathematical subjects such as algebra and geometry is a top district priority.
"It is upping the math requirement from the number of classes to making sure students take algebra," Leal said. "That is why it is such a priority."
The exams have proven controversial.
Education groups and Gov. Tony Knowles have called on the Legislature to amend the law to delay implementation. They cite difficulties in revising curriculum, remediating lagging students and accommodating handicapped students. Lawmakers who crafted the original rule say schools have had adequate time to phase in the accountability measures.
In the past, students having trouble with math gravitated toward classes in applied math and pre-algebra, Leal said.
"I think that is why the state board of education has asked for more time," he said. "We knew the test was coming, but we didn't know the bar in math would be set so high. If the state wants to keep it there, we need some time to get students there."
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