This article is from the San Jose Mercury News and was written by Sharon Noguchi
A greater portion of California students are mastering minimum English and math skills, and the biggest gains are seen among poor, Latino and African-American students, according to results of the high-school exit exam released today by the state.
In the Class of 2010, 94.5 percent had passed the exam by last May, compared with 91.2 percent of the Class of 2006, the first group required to pass the exam in order to graduate.
In addition, an increasing proportion of students are passing the exam on their first try in 10th grade. The test is administered to sophomores and those not passing can retake the test several times if needed during their junior and senior years. Among the class of 2006, about 74 percent passed English and math — the two sections of the test — as sophomores. Among last year’s sophomores, the Class of 2012, that percent rose to about 81 percent.
Most impressive has been the improvement among students who were lagging — a testament to schools’ intensive work in teaching basic English and math skills.
Among Latinos in the Class of 2006, only about 61 percent passed English and math, a rate that was approximately 26 percentage points below whites in both subjects.
Six years later, Latino passing scores rose to more than 73 percent, narrowing the gaps between them and white students to 18.5 percent in English and 16.9 percent in math.
“I applaud the hard work of our students, teachers, and school staff that has resulted in the gap narrowing, but we cannot rest until it is fully erased and all students are meeting their full potential,” state Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell said in a prepared statement.
As they have in the past, Santa Clara County students outpaced their statewide peers, but by a margin that’s becoming smaller over the years. Among 10th-graders, 85 percent of county students passed English and 86 percent passed math, compared with 81 percent of state students in both subjects. In 2002, county sophomores passed at a rate that was 8 percentage points higher in English and 11 points higher in math.
The growing success of sophomores taking the exit exam is a big factor in boosting the overall passage rates, analysts said.
“You have your best shot the first time,” said Linda Hooper, a consultant to the state Department of Education. She pointed out that passage rates fall considerably below 50 percent for students on their subsequent attempts at the test. She attributed the increasing passages rates to schools starting earlier at better preparing students to take the test.
It also appears that the jump in passage rates from 2009 to 2010 was closely tied to who had to take the test. In 2008, the state began requiring special-education students to take the exit exam, and passage rates tumbled from 93.3 percent to 90.4 percent of seniors. The rate nudged up to 90.6 percent in 2009. But this year, the state again exempted special-education students and the latest numbers reflected that: the passage rate jumped to 94.5 percent.
The state Department of Education is seeking an alternate way to evaluate special-education students.