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A tougher statewide achievement test adopted by Texas officials proved true to its billing, as about half of the state's 5th-, 7th-, and 9th-graders failed the test, according to preliminary results.

Students in 3rd grade fared better, with 67 percent passing, as did high-school juniors, 68 percent of whom passed the state's high-school graduation exam.

Taken by about 1.4 million children, the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills required students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities not included in its predecessor, the Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills. The earlier teams test also did not include an essay assignment for high-school juniors. That portion of the taas is still being scored.

While the high-school results were the most promising of all grade levels, William N. Kirby, the state education commissioner, said he was disappointed that nearly one-third of the juniors must repeat the test.

Despite the generally low marks for students, Mr. Kirby said the test should provide incentive for districts to improve student achievement. To nudge administrators in that direction, the state will raise the passing criteria from this year's 60 percent to 70 percent by the 1991-92 school year.

An Arizona couple has pledged to donate more than $10 million to a Phoenix-based foundation to help improve science education in the state.

The elderly Scottsdale couple, who requested anonymity, donated $2.3 million in cash to the Arizona Community Foundation late last year, said Gail Jacobs, the foundation's senior programming officer. An additional $8 million will become available when one or both of the benefactors dies, she added.

The foundation, meanwhile, is developing guidelines to distribute the proceeds from an endowment established with the initial gift. Both public and private schools will be eligible for the funds, Ms. Jacobs said.

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