State lacks answers on exit exam results
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- Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 07:55:49 -0700
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State lacks answers on exit exam results
By Laurel Rosenhall -- Bee Staff Writer
Published Thursday, August 18, 2005
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee
By the end of this school year, the state could deny diplomas to tens of
thousands of high school seniors who didn't pass the California High School
But don't ask state officials exactly how many or who they are or what
schools they attend. There won't be an exact count until the spring of 2007
- nine months after failing students are denied their diplomas and
successful ones will have tossed their graduation caps.
Until then, a precise count is only available from individual school
districts, which vary greatly in their ability to produce the information
"We're struggling with what's the best kind of information to give (to the
public) without going too far into estimates," said Deb Sigman, director of
testing for the state Department of Education.
The situation flies in the face of the state's move toward greater public
accountability. And it frustrates parents curious about how the pass rate
at their child's school stacks up against other schools, as well as civil
rights advocates concerned about pass rates of African American and Latino
"You can't make head nor tails of how many kids actually failed, or dropped
out in lieu of taking the test," said Kelly O'Hagan, president of the
Sacramento Council of Parent Teacher Associations. "If the state's using it
(to determine graduation) they need to know which schools are performing well."
The class of 2006 is the first required to pass the exit exam to receive a
diploma, though the testing program has been in development since 1999.
Sigman expects to have a good idea of how many seniors have passed by the
end of this school year. But the final number won't be known until 2007,
she said, because some districts allow students to take the test for the
last time after their senior year.
Incomplete reporting can have political consequences, said Patty Sullivan,
director of the Center on Education Policy, in Washington, D.C. Her
organization studies exit exams in the 25 states that have them or are
developing them. Sullivan said states that report the information well tend
to have greater public support for the exams, while states that report only
limited information suffer battles that threaten the exams' staying power.
"Arizona has people so confused about what's going on and the result is
that kids are not taking the test seriously," she said.
Other states, including Massachusetts, are able to report the percentage of
each class in each district and school that have passed the exit exam -
after each administration of the test.
"Our attitude is: The numbers are the numbers, and they speak for
themselves," said Heidi Perlman of the Massachusetts Department of Education.
In California, public school students in the class of 2006 first took the
test as sophomores. Those who didn't pass got two more chances as juniors.
If they still haven't passed, they can try three more times as seniors.
School districts are supposed to keep track of which students pass the exam
each time it is given - but they don't report that information to the state.
"We can't (require) that without a law," Sigman said.
So even though the state reported Monday that an estimated 88 percent of
California's incoming seniors have passed the math section of the test and
88 percent have passed the English section, officials are unable to report
the same information for each school and each district.
"That's a total redesign of the system," Sigman said. "That's not to say it
isn't a good idea, but it wouldn't happen overnight."
Yet it's information Debra Durazo would like to see about her son's school.
She knows that her son passed the exam as a sophomore. He's now beginning
his senior year at Sacramento New Technology High School.
"I'm curious (about the pass rate) because it's a new school," Durazo said.
She said she'd like to see how the senior class at New Tech compares with
The state's reporting system also frustrates researchers and advocates who
want to know how many students passed both the math and English sections of
the test, as required for graduation.
State education officials say they can't report that figure because they
don't have identification numbers that would allow them to match students'
English scores with their math scores.
A system is in development, said Keric Ashley, the Education Department's
director of data management, but won't be complete until at least 2008.
Jeannie Oakes, an education professor at UCLA, said the lack of information
portends a crisis.
"Because we don't know the combined test results for any one student, we
simply don't know ... if there are 49,000 students at risk (of not
graduating) or 96,000 students at risk, or somewhere in between," she said.
"It really seems terrible that we have to make guesses about something that
Oakes is calculating exit exam pass rates using a formula different from
the state's. She said if students who drop out after 10th-grade are
included, the pass rate is 8 to 20 percentage points lower than the state
reports. And her analysis shows that students who fail the exit exam tend
to be clustered in the same schools.
Ashley, the education department's data manager, said he expects the
state's reporting method to improve .
"We're probably going to have to work out some way to do this better," he said.
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