Caroline An & Selicia Kennedy Ross, SB Sun Staff Writers
Passing rates by first-time test takers for the California High School Exit Exam rose slightly this year, but state officials are still concerned about the growing gaps in some minority groups.
The state Department of Education released the May exam results Tuesday. Statewide, 77 percent of 10th-graders passed the English portion of the exam and 75 percent the math part, an improvement from the year before, when 76 percent passed the English part and 74 percent passed the math portion.
In San Bernardino County, 32,187 10th-graders took the exam and 72 percent passed the math portion, an increase of two percentage points from last year and the highest passage rate in the six years of testing. In English, 74 percent passed, the highest level in the past three years, and a one percentage point increase from last year.
"I'm proud of the ongoing rate of student success on the exit exam," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. "The vast majority of the class of 2007 and the class of 2008 have already passed the exit exam, and at this pace, we are on track toward a passing rate greater than that of the class of 2006."
O'Connell cautioned that while passing rates are improving, he is concerned with the first-time passing rates of Latino and black students compared to white students. Additionally, first-time passing rates for the English-learner group dropped four percentage points on the English portion of the exam and one percentage point on the math portion.
The exit exam is administered to students beginning their sophomore year to assess their skills in English and math. This year, the test became part of the state's graduation requirement for students.
The Fontana Unified School District administered a July test to its seniors who hadn't passed the exit exam. July results are expected to be released later this fall.
Carole Lee, director of assessment and evaluation for the Fontana district, said a total of 341 students took one or both parts of the May exam. These included 10th- and 11th-graders and adult-education students as well as some seniors from the class of 2006 taking it for the third time this school year. Sixty-eight passed the English and 52 passed the math portion.
Lee said 120 seniors of the class of 2006 took the July exam, but the turnout was disappointing.
"We prepared for 400 students to take the exam, though," she said.
In the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District, 865 - or nearly 60 percent - of students districtwide who took the math portion of the exit exam, passed it.
Of the students districtwide who took the English-language Arts portion of the test, 68 percent, or 885 students, passed.
The district is helping students pass the exam by insuring that any student who hasn't passed it has an individualized testing plan, said Lucia Hudec, assistant superintendent of educational services for the district.
Yucaipa-Calimesa established the aggressive approach last year after a parent advisory committee came up with plan.
If by the end of their junior year a student hasn't passed the exit exam, then they kick into a "CAHSEE high gear" that includes a meeting with their parents. A plan honed to their needs is created for the student and they are given tutoring, extra classes and after-school materials for practice at home.
"They practice, practice, practice - and we hold their hand and help them through it," Hudec said. "And we feel ahead of the curve."
And it seems to be working - out of the 580 students in Yucaipa-Calimesa's class of 2006, only five will return as seniors to retake the exit exam.
In Rialto Unified School District, 48 percent, or 2,185, students districtwide passed the math portion of the May exam, compared to 51 percent who passed the math section in 2005.
The percentage of students districtwide who passed the English-language arts section - 2,235 students, or 53 percent - also declined compared to 60 percent of the students last year.
But those comparisons are misleading because the number of students districtwide who take the exam changes every year as new students come in, said Tonia Causey-Bush, director of testing and accountability for the Rialto district.
"That percentage in itself doesn't help us," she said. "It's hard to separate why they may have done better or worse. Some may be taking it for the first time while others may have taken it multiple times."
Among the steps the district is taking to help more students pass the test are after-school tutoring, special software programs and "diploma" English and math classes that students must take in addition to their regular courseload.
The San Bernardino City Unified School District also experienced a dip in the percentage of students districtwide who passed the math portion of the test. It dropped from 46 percent, or 2,643 students, in 2005 to 43 percent, or 3,349 students, this year.
Last year, half of the students districtwide who took the English portion of the exam passed it, compared to 47 percent, or 3,395 students, in 2006.
Again, the numbers are based on an ever-changing group of students.
"We know we are on the right track from the changes we made in the past year," district spokeswoman Linda Hill said. "We're looking forward to having more students pass the CAHSEE in the coming year.
"We will continue with our present course of action - after-school tutoring, special daytime classes students can take to refresh themselves on the standards."
The state budget has allocated funding for school districts, including $275 million to focus assistance on middle and high school students, $178 million for remediation services for 7th through 12th grade and nearly $70 million to assist incoming seniors who haven't passed the exam.
Test results are available at www.cde.ca.gov.