At least 139 Berkeley High School juniors will have to retake a state exam if they hope to earn a diploma next year, according to administrators of the California High School Exit Exam.
The exact number of students who failed at least one portion of the test is not yet known. But administrators said that 59 percent of Berkeley students failed the math portion of the state exam while 43 percent failed the English section.
The scores were released Monday, and are part of a two-year-old exam that attempts to hold high school students accountable for basic math and language skills.
The test was first given to ninth- and 10th-graders in 2000. To the 10th-graders the test was a trial run as the scores had no consequence. But for the ninth-graders, the Class of 2004, those who passed didn’t have to take the test again. Students in the Class of 2004 will be the first who must pass the test to graduate.
Despite many failing scores, Berkeley students exceeded the state average and were consistent with other students in Alameda County.
Sixty-eight percent statewide and 62 percent countywide failed math. On the English section, 54 percent statewide and 58 percent countywide passed.
Students must pass both English and math sections to graduate, and students who fail either section are given seven opportunities to retake the test during their junior and senior years.
Local school officials gave differing perspectives of the test scores.
Berkeley superintendent Michele Lawrence is concerned that high stakes tests, such as the state exit exam, fail to improve student performance and instead will burden local school districts.
“Will the state now allow and pay for fifth-year seniors? Do we just pass them out the door without a diploma?” Lawrence asked.
She found some consolation in the fact that the city’s 10th-graders beat out the statewide average. “I’m marginally pleased in relation to the state results,” she said.
In 2000, 50 percent of county students passed the math portion, while 67 percent passed the English section. Berkeley students scored even better: 64 percent passed math, while 76 percent passed English.
Although students scored higher in 2000 the statistics are deceiving. Ninth-graders who passed the test in 2000 did not have to retake it. Thus, the 10th-graders who took last year’s tests had either never taken the test or had failed it the year before.
According to statewide results released by the Department of Education:
n Nearly 460,000 students took the test in March 2001 and last May.
Overall, 10th-graders performed better on the language arts portion of the test than in math. Sixty-four percent of the students who took the test in both years passed the English-language arts section, while only 52 percent passed the math portion. Forty-eight percent of the students passed both sections.
n Less than 20 percent of 10th-graders who speak little or no English — more than 63,000 kids — passed the test.
n Eighty-seven percent of special education students didn’t pass the test.
The exam was created in 1999 as part of Gov. Gray Davis’ plan for raising standards and accountability.
– The Associated Press contributed to this story