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Grad Rate Jumped After Test Change

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Education officials in New Mexico are celebrating a substantial increase in the state’s graduation rate – which jumped from 63 percent for the class of 2011 to 70 percent for the class of 2012.

But there is one difference in expectations for those classes: The class of 2011 was required to pass the state High School Competency Exam, while the class of 2012 had no such requirement.

Officials downplayed that difference Monday, saying the gains are genuine. Public Education Department spokesman Larry Behrens said 70 percent of the class of 2013 statewide has already passed the exit exam required for their class, which bodes well for next year’s graduation rate.

Among Albuquerque Public Schools students, 71 percent of the class of 2013 has passed the exam.

Behrens also said students from the class of 2012 were expecting to be the first class to take a more difficult exit exam and studied accordingly. Many schools offered after-school tutoring and test preparation when those in the class of 2012 were juniors, before a bill was passed and signed in spring 2011 that gave students a one-year reprieve.

“The Class of 2012 was the first in the state to be prepared under the expectation they would have to pass the high stakes exam. These results are a testament to teachers, students and parents responding to high expectations for our state,” Behrens said in a written statement.

Students who graduated in 2011 were the last class required to pass the old state exit exam. That test had been used since 1986 and tested skills at about an eighth-grade level. Officials decided several years ago to replace it with the Standards-Based Assessment that students take in 11th grade.

The SBA, which students were already taking as a measure of school quality under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, measures skills at about an 11th grade level.

It is hard to tell whether graduation rates for the class of 2012 would have been different if students had taken the old exit exam or had been expected to pass the SBA.

“Passing” the SBA means earning a composite score set by the PED. Students do not necessarily have to score “proficient” in both math and reading, as long as they are at least “nearing proficient” in both subjects and their combined raw scores are high enough to reach the PED threshold.

Initially, just 57 percent of the class of 2013 passed the SBA when they took it as juniors last year. But they have since had opportunities to retake the test, and that number is now up to 70 percent statewide, Behrens said. He said others are working to complete an “alternate demonstration of competency,” which allows students to graduate if they score at certain levels on the SAT or ACT, or if they pass state-approved, end-of-course exams in their core subjects.

In APS, 62.8 percent of students passed the SBA as juniors last year, and the number is up to 71 percent after students retook the test in the fall.

APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, who has been upbeat about his district’s 2012 graduation rate of 70 percent, excluding charters, said he also believes the gains are genuine. He also said he is not concerned about the possibility of a dip in rates next year when the SBA requirement kicks in.

“I don’t think the exit exams are going to have that much of an impact one way or the other,” Brooks said. “I think what we’ve done is sustainable. It’s not a false front.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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