|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Ventura County Star 3-17-04
High school exit exam prompts changes
Even though he felt sick and "gunky," one of the only reasons Geof Djernaes came to school Tuesday was to take the California High School Exit Exam.
"For me, it was pretty easy," said Djernaes, 16, a sophomore at Ventura's Foothill Technology High. "I just went in there and did my best."
Tuesday marked the start of a two-day exam required for graduation in 2006. The exam covers math and language and is intended to show whether high school students have mastered skills needed for work or college. California is among dozens of states to require an exam for graduation.
As 2006 nears, Ventura County schools are boosting efforts to ensure students pass the test. Schools are handing out study guides, purchasing computer software to help students prepare and making sure teachers discuss material on the exam.
"We have a lot of new curriculum we have adopted. We have some excellent after-school tutorials going on," said Judy Warner, an assistant superintendent in the Oxnard Union High School District. "I think we're going to meet our targets this year."
Last year, 70 percent of county students passed the exam's language section, and half did so in math.
This year's sophomores are the first who must pass the exam when it becomes a requirement. The state implemented the test in 2001, and it was originally planned to go into effect this year. Over the summer, the State Board of Education postponed the test because it felt students did not have time to learn the necessary material.
County Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis said his goal is to have 75 percent of students pass this year. Students must score at least 55 percent on the math section and 60 percent on the language. The exam covers math through algebra 1 and language through the 10th-grade level.
To reach that number, Weis said, students must take algebra by eighth grade. He said instruction in the test's language and writing skills must start in elementary school. He also feels schools must creatively reteach math and language skills to students who don't pick up information the first time around.
"We've got to find different ways to teach the same content," Weis said. "The biggest support is to teach what is on the exam."
Because results are dramatically lower for special-education students, Weis said he hopes the state rethinks its requirement for them to ace the test. He said just 18 percent of county special-education kids passed the math portion, and 34 percent passed language. He said it's unfair for kids with learning disabilities to meet the same standard as other students.
Because of the exam, districts such as Oxnard Union added new curricula to teach algebra to special-education kids.
As testing neared, Foothill High Principal Joe Bova visited sophomore classrooms, reminding students to take the exam seriously for selfish reasons, such as graduation. There were unselfish reasons, too: Exam results are used by the state when ranking schools.
"There's a built-in motivation: It's called graduation," Bova said. "They are very motivated to pass and want to get it done right away."
Other schools such as Simi Valley's Santa Susana High, handed out study booklets from the state.
"Generally, instruction covers most of what students need, if not all, to pass," Principal Robert Thompson said.
As they refueled with nachos and ice cream after Tuesday's test, many Foothill sophomores said the exam was easy and tested skills from junior high. Many agreed, however, a test should be required for graduation.
"There's a bunch of tests we have to take for graduation,"
Eric Bennett, 16, said. "Really, this is just another one of them."
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