Assessment

Delays Prompt Retests For Thousands of California Students

By Joetta L. Sack — December 04, 2002 3 min read
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Against the state’s wishes, thousands of California high school students are continuing to retake the state’s new high school exit exams, even though they might have passed already.

This school year, about half the state’s high school juniors still had not passed both sections of the test, and many retook the test in September. But because of the lag time in getting results from the state, many schools did not know who had passed the exam in September, and they urged some students to take the test again in November.

The state is trying to persuade districts not to jump the gun on retesting students. Instead, state officials want to spare students the stress and frustration of retaking the tests unnecessarily.

California’s graduation-exam requirement is scheduled to go into effect for the class of 2004, meaning the current juniors. To receive their diplomas, those students are required to pass tests in mathematics and English/language arts. The tests, which are offered every two months, can be taken as early as the 9th grade, but are required to be taken by the 10th grade.Because part of the English/language arts section is two essays, it takes about eight weeks for the tests to be graded by a private contractor and returned to schools, said Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

State officials believe that an eight-week turnaround time to get scores back to school districts is reasonable, given the essay component, Ms. Winger said. Some test scores may come back in six weeks or less, she added.

Lag Time

Meanwhile, because of that typical eight-week lag time, the 737,000-student Los Angeles district and other California school districts have been urging low-performing students who they believe may have failed the exam to go ahead and retake the test, even if they have not gotten back their scores from a previous attempt.

Los Angeles administrators are “erring on the side of caution” until the state comes up with a faster way for students to receive their scores, said Bud Jacobs, the director of high school services for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“We would rather err on the side of the kid having to take it too much,” he said.

Mr. Jacobs did not know how many students were adversely affected by the lag time in receiving test scores this school year.

The decision to urge retests does not sit well with the state.

“No student should be taking the high school exit exam every two months,” Ms. Winger said. “The law states the school district should have received the score before retesting that student.”

The state wants districts to focus on offering tutoring and other remedial programs to the students who fail, she said, not force them to undergo more testing.

State officials will be working with LAUSD administrators to help them better comply with the law’s provisions, Ms. Winger said. The education department will soon send a letter to all districts informing them that the law did not intend for students to be retested if they did not know their previous scores.

Test Uncertainty

Further, because districts are required to offer help to students who fail one or more portions of the test, students who fail would likely not have learned enough to pass the exam on another try just two months later, Ms. Winger said."It’s common sense: The school needs to have received results back before the students test again,” she argued.

A student who passed the exam on the first try but failed it on the second try would be able to use the passing score to meet the state requirement, according to Ms. Winger.

Mr. Jacobs of Los Angeles added that it’s sometimes hard to persuade “borderline” students to retake the exam if they feel they may have already passed. “Students would rather not take it again,” he said. “Students feel once they’ve taken it and passed it, they shouldn’t have to take it again.”

The debate could be moot, though. Next spring, an independent panel is scheduled to present a report to the legislature on the status of the tests, as mandated by the 1999 state law that established the exit exams.

Next summer, the state school board is to discuss those findings and whether to delay implementation of the exit exams.

A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week as Delays Prompt Retests For Thousands of California Students

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