Students struggle with more stringent proficiency exam

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More than half of the 622 Carson High School juniors who took a more difficult form of the state's proficiency math exam in October failed it.

About 54 percent of the juniors taking the test for the first time did not pass. Last year, 54 percent of juniors -- taking the old version of the test -- passed it.

However, this year's juniors improved on the reading portion with 81 percent of them passing. Last year, 73 percent passed on the first attempt.

"Comparisons are a little bit difficult when you start looking at the numbers because the tests have changed," said Mike Watty, associate superintendent of education. "We want to get it up to 100 percent who pass."

The new test is built around the education standards adopted in 1998. The old form of the test concentrated on 1994 standards.

In addition to the content change in the test, the manner of scoring the test also changed.

Instead of being based on a scale of 100 with a passing score in reading set at 64 and in math at 71, the new test is based on a 500-point scale.

Students must achieve 304 points to pass math and 251 to pass reading.

Watty said he is pleased with the improvement in the reading portion but is concerned with the drop in math.

He said the problem may lie in the basic structure of math education. Traditionally, high school students learn math in disciplines -- learning algebra one year and geometry another.

"We may need to look at a more integrated type of math program -- a little bit of each type of math each year," he said. "That's, in effect, how the test is set up. The traditional model of teaching high school math is not set up for this type of a test, so we have to look at our model."

Seniors need to pass the old version of the test. At Carson High School, 76 seniors still need to pass the math portion and 25 need to pass reading. At Pioneer High School, 12 have not yet passed in math and haven't passed reading.

The test will be administered again to seniors in February and April.

For the first time, sophomores will be able to take the exam in April and get a jump start on passing the test.


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