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Missouri Will Require Students To Pass Skills Test for Graduation

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The Missouri State Board of Education late last month approved a measure that will require that all students pass every part of the state's Basic Essential Skills Test (best) to receive credit for 9th-grade courses needed for high-school graduation.

Beginning in 1987, students who fail to pass any of the best subtests in reading and language arts, mathematics, and government and economics will not be able to "receive the 9th-grade high-school unit required for graduation in that subject area," according to Charles D. Oviatt, acting director of pupil-personnel services for the state department of education.

Although Missouri has used the test since 1979 for diagnostic purposes, this year's 8th graders will be the first to face the examination as a diploma requirement. Students first take the test in the 8th grade and can retake any portion each year through the 12th grade. A student who fails the mathematics portion of the test as an 8th-grader, for instance, will still be allowed to enroll in a new mathematics course but will not receive credit for any math classwork until he or she passes the best, according to Robert Bartman, an assistant to the state commissioner of education.

The state-developed test was first administered in March 1979. At that time, the state board intended to ensure that schools could measure students' ability to apply basic skills to everyday situations, according to Mr. Oviatt. At that time, he added, the state board wanted to identify students who were not able to reach minimum levels of competency and to assess the progress the schools were making in basic education.

Last year, 4,000 of the 57,000 high-school seniors in the state were reported by their high schools to have graduated without having passed all segments of the test, according to Mr. Oviatt. Many of those students were special-education students who have been exempted from taking the test, he said.

Under P.L. 94-142, the federal statute governing the education of the handicapped, special-education students completing an individual education program may be exempted from taking such tests if the committee monitoring their progress de-termines that it is in the student's best interest not to take it. Mr. Oviatt could not estimate how many of the 4,000 students who graduated without having passed every section of the test were in that category.

The final wording of the new requirement has not yet been drafted, Mr. Oviatt said, but he noted that it was his understanding that the provision exempting special-education students would be retained.

"If the individual-education-plan committee says that the best test is appropriate, then students will be required to take the test," Mr. Bartman said. He added that local boards of education will determine whether a "certificate of completion" will be awarded to students who are not exempted but fail to pass the examination.

The state currently requires that students complete 20 units of credit, including 1 credit each in language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, plus 2 additional credits in any of the four areas. In addition, the state requires that students complete 1 unit each in fine arts, practical arts, and physical education. The state is currently considering raising the number of total credits required for graduation and increasing the number of courses required in "core" areas, Mr. Bartman said.

Opposition to the adoption of the test as a graduation requirement has centered on the argument that it would be "inappropriate to have such a simple test" to measure the competencies required for graduation, Mr. Bartman said.

In its action, "the state board did not want to emphasize the test as a competency exam for high schools," he said. "The test is a requirement for high-school graduation, just as passing the 6th grade is a requirement. Nobody questions whether you need to have completed 6th grade to receive a high-school diploma."

Each of the three subtests contains 39 questions, and the state sets two criteria for passing. A student must answer correctly 75 percent of the questions on each part and must also answer correctly one of three questions in each of 13 "objective areas," Mr. Bartman said.

"A student could conceivably have a 90-percent score but miss three items of objectives and fail the test," according to Mr. Bartman. However, he added, it is inconceivable that a student could fail to pass the language-arts subtest and still earn sufficiently high grades in high school to receive a high-school diploma.

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