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Diplomas at Risk for Thousands in N.M.

Shown is a creative writing classroom at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque. About 2,100 Albuquerque Public Schools seniors need to retake the state's new graduation exam. Photo Credit - Journal File
Shown is a creative writing classroom at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque. About 2,100 Albuquerque Public Schools seniors need to retake the state's new graduation exam. Photo Credit - Journal File
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More than 2,000 Albuquerque Public Schools seniors, and 10,000 statewide, will have to retake the state Standards-Based Assessment exam before they graduate.

This is the first year students are required to pass the exam, and 37 percent of APS students who are now seniors failed to do so last year. Statewide, the percentage is even higher, at 43 percent.

Retakes are scheduled for the first two weeks of October for the 10,000 affected students statewide. Of those, about 2,100 are APS students.

Students who aren’t able to pass the test or meet alternative standards will receive a “certificate of completion” instead of a diploma, indicating they passed all the necessary classes to graduate from high school, but didn’t pass the exit exam.

Students who don’t pass the test on the second try will be able to demonstrate competency in other ways. Specifically, state education chief Hanna Skandera said students will be able to use their scores on the ACT, PSAT, SAT or final exams in their core classes. The details and formal guidelines for “alternate demonstration of competency” will be released Friday, Skandera said.

APS Chief Academic Officer Shelly Green told the school board Friday the district is in the process of distributing students’ scores to students and families. She said all students who did not pass the test will be contacted directly by their schools.

“Passing” the SBA doesn’t necessarily mean scoring “proficient” on both the math and reading sections. A composite score has been set as the “pass” bar, meaning a student could be proficient in one section and only “nearing proficient” in another, and still pass. For this reason, Green said the district is encouraging students to retake both sections of the test, even if they passed one section.

She said the rationale is, if students can raise their scores in their stronger area, they can improve their chances of reaching the composite score required to pass. Green said schools will offer after-school help for students, teaching them test-taking techniques and reviewing the standards that will be measured.

In fall 2010, state officials decided to adopt the SBA as the high school exit exam, replacing the High School Competency Exam that had been used since 1986. That test measured skills at about an eighth-grade level, while the SBA tests students on 11th-grade standards.

The APS board raised concerns Friday morning about whether the test is a good measure of high school success.

Board member David Peercy, a scientist by trade, took an SBA practice test available on the APS website. He said he doesn’t think the test measures the things students really need to know.

“I have a really hard time believing that an 11th-grader who took that test, that that’s an indication of what you know about mathematics,” he said.

The PED does not release previous test questions, so APS has developed a bank of practice questions that have been released by other states, which use the same test vendor as New Mexico and which test the same standards New Mexico tests in 11th grade.

Skandera said a challenging exit exam is important for raising expectations in New Mexico.

“Really, this is our state’s commitment to ensure our kids are ready for success,” she said. “We spend about $27 million a year on remediation, and that’s for the kids who go on to college. Let’s ensure our kids are ready for college and career when they finish high school.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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