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90 percent of seniors passed Wash. graduation exam

SEATTLE — Ninety percent of Washington’s 12th graders passed the statewide reading and writing tests before graduating, but state officials said Wednesday that math results show that subject is going to be a major obstacle to graduation for future classes.

This spring, Washington’s high school students made their first attempt at a different set of statewide tests called the High School Proficiency Exam. The tests are based on the same learning standards as the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, but are shorter and more focused.

Preliminary results for 10th graders show that 78 percent passed reading and 84 percent passed writing in their first attempts, but just 43 percent of 10th graders passed the math exam.

Among 11th graders, 88 percent have passed reading, 90 percent have passed writing and 57 percent have passed math in two years of taking the exam.

The head of the Washington State Board of Education issued a strong statement of concern after the testing results were released Wednesday.

“We must put an end to this repetitive cycle of low performance,” said board chair Jeff Vincent. “The gaps that exist between reading and math can be overcome. The achievement gaps can be overcome. But when you are behind, you have to work even harder to catch up.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn agreed with Vincent’s criticism and said he would be meeting with legislative leaders within the next few months to start making plans for tackling the issues of test scores, the achievement gap among different ethnic groups and graduation rates.

He warned that high school math scores could get worse before they get better, because of a change in the way students will be tested, beginning next year.

The state of Washington will be changing to end-of-course exams for algebra and geometry as a replacement for the general math test. Dorn believes the new tests will be more challenging than the high school math exam, which includes a lot of general math along with some algebra and geometry.

And there’s an additional problem he’s been talking about for the past year: many of the first students taking the end-of-course exams will take them in 10th grade, years after they completed algebra or geometry in 8th or 9th grade. This issue will disappear eventually, but Dorn worries about next year’s 10th graders.

“I’m not going to push issues under the rug and act like they don’t exist. That’s not fair to kids,” Dorn said. “My job is to be an advocate for students.”

The class of 2013 — this year’s ninth graders — will be the first required to pass four statewide exams, in reading, writing, math and science. Those students won’t take their first high school tests until next year.

Dorn said he was pleased with the state’s experiment with online testing for some middle school students.

The goal is to have all students testing online by the 2013-2014 school year, Dorn said. Grades four and five will go online next year in reading and math, as well as grades five and eight in science. High school online testing will not begin until spring 2012.

Dorn said his main concern remains the passing rate in high school math — just under 70 percent for this year’s seniors — but about another 20 percent met the graduation requirement by earning two math credits after 10th grade.

“This state has done well with its reading and writing curriculum,” Dorn said. “We’ve got to raise math to that level.”

He noted improving math during a time of education budget cuts and increasing class sizes would be difficult.

“We will expect more than 90 percent of the class of 2013 to be proficient in math by the time they reach graduation. I’m not confident that will happen,” he said.

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