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Collegiate Basic-Skills Test Is Questioned by Hispanics

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Texas education officials were set last week to administer a new basic-skills test for college students, despite concerns by Hispanic leaders that the mandatory examination may discourage thousands from staying in school.

Prospective education majors accounted for most of the 8,200 students scheduled to take the first Texas Academic Skills Program test, state officials said. For freshmen and sophomores seeking entry to teacher-training programs, the test replaces the state's controversial Pre-Professional Skills Test. (See Education Week, Feb. 17, 1988.)

Under a 1987 law, all freshmen at state colleges and universities must take the test of mathematics and English skills beginning next fall. Those who fail to pass the exam by the end of their sophomore year will be barred from taking upper-level courses.

The state board of education and the higher-education coordinating board recently set a passing standard of 70 percent for the test.

More than half of the Hispanics and blacks who volunteered to take a pre-test last fall failed all or part of the exam, according to education officials.

Joan Matthews, head of testing for the higher-education board, noted that the main purpose of the pre-test was to experiment with test items, not to predict how students would fare on the examination. But its results suggested, she said, that "45 percent of students may fail the test."

"Since it wasn't based on a true field test, we can't say with confidence how many students will need remediation because they failed," Ms. Matthews said.

Although the law requires the state to provide counseling and remediation to students who fail the test, the legislature has yet to appropriate funds for those purposes.

Representatives Eddie Cavazos of Corpus Christi and Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio have introduced a bill that would ease the testing requirement and delay the exam's use if lawmakers failed to come up with money for remediation.

Their bill also would require college officials to consider other factors, such as high-school and college grades, before barring students from upper-level classes. In addition, it would eliminate the testing requirement for students in community colleges and vocational schools.

A similar bill has been filed in the state Senate. No action has been taken yet on either measure.

"Making the test an absolute bar to progress is what really concerns us," said Al Kauffman, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"We have some concerns whether the test reflects the basic skills of blacks and Hispanics as well as it does those of Anglo students," he said.

Ms. Matthews of the higher-education board defended the requirement, saying it was intended to keep students in school to obtain the remediation they need.

But, she added, "the board and the commissioner are on record saying that unless the legislature can support the program with funds for remediation, they should reconsider having the testing program at all."--mw

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