Tenth-graders show slight gains on state exit exam

SAN MATEO — The percentage of San Mateo County sophomores passing the California High School Exit Exam on their first try increased slightly in 2005-06, and Peninsula students continued to pass at higher rates than their statewide peers, according to information released by the California Department of Education on Tuesday.

Countywide, 83 percent of those 10th-graders, who are now entering the 11th grade, passed the English and math portions of the exam. San Mateo Union High School District’s students scored highest — 90 percent passed the English portion, while 91 passed the math portion. Jefferson Union High School District’s sophomores had the lowest rates, with 83 percent passing the English portion and 79 percent passing the math.

Many school district officials saw the 2005-06 scores as a healthy sign, considering that seniors in the class of 2006 were the first ones required to pass the exam.

“The exit exam has helped people to focus on what is important, and it puts an external validation on the high school diploma,” said Peter Burchyns, special adviser to Superintendent Jean Holbrook in the San Mateo County Office of Education. “Otherwise you really don’t know, looking at a kid in Eureka and one in San Francisco, how you compare them.”

However, no school district in the county — where those test-takers will enter the 11th grade this fall —saw a gain of more than three percentage points among 10th-graders between 2004-05 and 2005-06. Exit-exam scores also revealed a 13 percent gap between Hispanic test-takers and their Asian and Caucasian counterparts, and showed that females scored 9 percent better than males on the English portion of the exam and 2 percent better on the math portion.

High school students get their first chance to take the exit exam during the 10th grade, when it is administered once. If they do not pass, they get three chances in their junior year and three more in their senior year.

“We know that our students do take it very seriously,” said Jeannie Kwong, director of assessment for the San Mateo Union High School District. “Our message is they need to do the best they can and pass it if possible … [so] they can put it behind them.”

The Sequoia Union High School District showed the greatest gains among 10th-graders between 2004-05 and 2005-06, with passage rates increasing 3 percent on the English portion and 2 percent on the math. Sequoia allows students to double up on English and math courses to prepare for the exam, according to Brandon Lee, district coordinator of research and evaluation.

“What’s been very helpful is that everyone knows it’s serious now,” Lee said.

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