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Class of 2004 first to be required to pass test to graduate


January 05, 2001|By KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writer

High school freshmen all over California are wishing they were one year older as the newly mandated high school exit exam approaches.

The California high school exit exam, developed by the American Institutes for Research, will be a requirement for graduation starting with the class of 2004. This spring that class will have the chance to take the exam as a practice test.

Starting in the spring 2002, the exam will be offered three times a year for sophomores, juniors and seniors and once for freshmen, said Marsha King, secondary mathematics coordinator for the Imperial County Office of Education.

Students will be able to take the test as many times as it's offered until they pass. Students failing to pass will not receive high school diplomas.


Local educators and administrators are determined not to let that happen to Imperial Valley students.

After failing to pass, areas of deficiency will be identified and students will receive extra assistance from "intervention programs" in those areas, King said.

"We're putting together a county-wide task force to stay on top of how to assist districts in their efforts" to prepare students for the exit exam, said Judy Maurice, assistant superintendent of educational services at ICOE.

"This whole issue is going to get bigger and bigger," Maurice said.

Though administrators haven't seen the test yet, a blueprint of how it will look and sample questions are available, King said.

The exam will consist of 82 multiple choice English-language arts questions, two writing questions and 80 multiple-choice mathematics questions, including algebra.

Though at least 22 other states require students to pass an exam before receiving their high school diplomas, this spring will be the first time the exit exam will be given in California. Ninth-grade volunteers can take the reading and writing portion March 7 and the math portion March 13.

This first round will give California schools and students an idea of what the test is like, Maurice said.

Though still unclear how the results will be presented and who will see them, schools will use the results to further align curriculum with the test and identify in which areas students need help.

Local school districts are already preparing students.

Revamping its curriculum and adding exit exam courses are just two ways the Calexico Unified School District is changing because of the new test, said district Deputy Superintendent Emily Palacio.

"If we don't align (the curriculum) it will have a very negative impact," Palacio said.

Using guidelines provided by the state Department of Education, the Calexico district is changing its curriculum to ensure students learn the material on which the exit exam will test them, Palacio said.

Though the state provides general standards for high school education, those are more expansive than the test standards, Palacio said.

"Our first priority is on those (skills) essential to know on the test," she said.

"It's nice to know the state standards, but we need to know the exit exam standards," Palacio said.

"In reality, we have a sense of being liable for someone not graduating if not given the instruction they need," Palacio said.

That sense of responsibility to students has Calexico high school teachers working with junior high teachers to ensure students are on track to pass the exit exam well before they take it.

Sometimes students perform poorly on tests not because they don't know the material, but because they don't know how to take tests. The Central Union High School District in El Centro is one district addressing this issue.

"As a district, we know that testing is part of a student's career," said Berta Walder, director of curriculum for the Central district.

"The (district's) department chairs and ISF's (instructional support facilitators) are going over successful test-taking strategies," Walder said.

Tips on how to read a question and easily identify what it's asking and how to eliminate possible answers on multiple choice questions improve student performance, Walder said.

The district's teachers and administrators hope to reduce some of the stress associated with taking tests.

"Students should realize (the exit exam) is a good thing, not something to fear," Walder said.

"It's our job to prepare them. We aim to do that," she said.

Staff writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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