Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

States Reassess School Tests

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

States Reassess School Tests

Article excerpt

As Florida's high school sophomores write essays this morning that will partly determine if they can receive a diploma, other states are re-examining the purpose of such tests.

The administering of assessment tests is not being questioned as much as requiring students to pass the exams as a prerequisite to move to the next grade level or graduate.

In Florida, starting with this year's sophomores, students must pass the 10th-grade exam if they are to receive a diploma. Sophomores will have a total of six tries to pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, which assesses their skills in reading, writing and math.

Some states, such as Arizona and North Carolina, postponed implementing graduation exams. Other states, like California and Massachusetts, are eliminating the most difficult questions and lowering passing scores.

The rollback of the tests is partly attributed to the high failure rates. For example, in Arizona 88 percent of the sophomores failed what was to be their graduation exam.

"States were not prepared for the high failure rates and the tension and controversy surrounding using a test as a sole determinant in graduation," said Mary Fulton, a policy analyst with Education Commission of the States, a non-profit organization assisting lawmakers and educators in developing policies to improve student achievement.

"States are worried," Fulton said. "There is general support, but you don't want to doom this process. Lots of states are trying to buy some time."

While states are reviewing their testing policies, none has decided to eliminate the exams or the standards the tests are supposed to assess.

There is general consensus that the exams will remain, especially with the large industry associated with testing. American public schools administer more than $100 million worth of standardized tests each year.

These graduation exams began appearing in the late 1990s to guarantee that students were leaving high school with needed skills. The tests are supposed to be aligned to new standards being adopted in individual states, outlining what students are expected to learn in classrooms each year. …

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