Biggest districts post declining results 

The two largest high school districts in San Mateo County had fewer sophomores passing a state-mandated test needed to graduate this year compared with last year.

Students are required to take the California High School Exit Exam for the first time when they are sophomores. Those who fail have six more chances — three as juniors and three as seniors — to pass. The test, which is part of the state and federal accountability models, has two sections: a math section, which tests up to an eighth-grade level; and an English-language arts portion, which tests to a 10th-grade level of knowledge. The exam was first instituted for the class of 2006.

San Mateo County’s class of 2009 sat for the test in May and the results offer a snapshot of student abilities in comparison with state standards.

Several schools in the Sequoia and San Mateo Union high school districts saw declines of 1 to 10 percent among passing rates for 10th-graders, according to data released Thursday by the California Department of Education.

"We know we have a lot more English-language learners in the class of 2009, and we think this may be affecting [our scores]," said Jeannie Kwong, director of assessment for the San Mateo Union High School District. "But, our pass record shows we can get to them by the time they’re seniors."

The reasons for Sequoia’s declines have not yet been determined, according to Brandon Lee, director of assessment for the Sequoia Union High School District.

"We’re pleased with the results, and we’re still above the state average," Lee said. "We make every effort to get our students to pass, but there are so many targets. It really is overwhelming."

Other schools, especially those in the South San Francisco and Jefferson High School districts, showed higher numbers of sophomores passing the English or mathematics portion of the exam on the first try.

Countywide, the class of 2009 did not post passing rates significantly higher than the class of 2008, though they fared better than 10th-graders statewide.

Eighty-three percent of 10th-graders who took the exit exam for the first time in May 2007 passed the English-language arts portion of the exam — matching the number of sophomores who passed it in May 2006. Eighty-four percent of sophomores passed the mathematics portion in 2007, 1 percent more than those who took the test in 2006.

Statewide, 76.5 percent of sophomores passed the English portion, while 75.8 passed the math portion, according to the California Department of Education.

Having a year of experience in teaching and administering the test helped — as did making sure teachers were well-versed in a curriculum that helps prepare students to perform well, according to Christine Baumgardner, supervisor of assessment for the South San Francisco Unified School District.

"I think students are taking this test more seriously," said Rick Boitano, deputy superintendent in the Jefferson High School District. "It’s here to stay and they know it."

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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