High-stakes test results are back

Solve for x: 5(2x – 3) – 6x ‹ 9.

If you’ve already graduated from high school, consider yourself fortunate. For the past three years, students across California have been taking a high-stakes exit exam under the belief each year that the results will make the difference between graduation and a life working menial, low-paying jobs.

Results for last year’s 10th-graders in the Chico Unified School District were released Oct. 10, and most of them passed. However, once again, as it has done each year so far, the state Department of Education has decided to delay implementation of the requirement—this time, until 2006.

“When [students] took it, they thought they had to pass it to get a diploma,” said Cindy Kampf, director of testing for the CUSD.

The class of 2005 took the test in March, and 89 percent of 10th-graders at Chico and Pleasant Valley high schools passed the English-language-arts portion of the test and 85 percent passed the math section.

That’s better than the statewide pass rate, where 78 percent of California 10th graders passed the language arts portion and 59 percent passed math.

Broken down by subgroup, more PV students passed than Chico High students, girls did better than boys, whites passed at a greater rate than any other ethnic group, and students who receive free lunch (and thus come from families with a lower socioeconomic status) had the lowest pass rate.

“Unfortunately, it follows what you see as a typical pattern,” said Kampf, referring to the consistently lower standardized test scores among minority groups, English-language learners, children of parents who didn’t get far in school and those from poorer families. “But that’s the job of schools—to get rid of that typical pattern [and teach children] who come with fewer opportunities to learn outside of the school. Otherwise, we’re saying the schools don’t make a difference—that it’s all decided before they walk in the door.”

The results don’t include students from Fair View, the continuation high school, because their population is too low to require reporting. In the traditional schools, even special-education students must pass the test to graduate as of 2006, and around half of last year’s 10th graders in special ed passed, with the highest rate being 64 percent of PV students in that category.

For students who don’t pass after repeated attempts, high schools might begin issuing certificates of completion to show potential employers that an otherwise-graduate had completed all high school coursework. Also, the CUSD will be offering classes and study sessions to help students prepare for the exam.

The greatest fear of educators, Kampf related, is that students who don’t pass the high-stakes test will give up and the dropout rate will increase, as it has in some states that instituted exit exams years ago.

Nineteen states now require exit exams. The federal government also uses the results to gauge adequate yearly progress in high schools.

Students may take the test, which from now on will include three hours of math and three of language arts, as early as ninth grade and repeat it each time it’s offered until they pass.

Of this year’s Chico High and PV seniors, some of whom have had four or five shots at the exam, 95 percent have passed the language arts portion, while 92 percent have cleared the math.

The test costs about $5 per student to administer, and the state covers $3 of that.

Oh, and by the way … x ‹ 6