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Questions Arise Over State's School Test Scores

Questions Arise Over State's School Test Scores



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State education officials may have overstated the number of Utah students that have passed the high school basic skills test.

In May, school board officials said 97 percent of incoming high school seniors have passed the reading segment of the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test. They also said 83 percent had passed the math portion and 90 percent had passed the writing exam.

But a review of the data shows the number of students to have failed the exam could drop the pass rates, 90.5 percent in reading, 74 percent in math and 82.5 percent in writing, according to a copyright story in the Deseret Morning News.

The newspaper analyzed data from the State Office of Education.

State educators fail to include in the data students who have yet to take the exam and -- if those test scores mirror trends at Utah's five largest schools -- that could drop pass rates by 3 to 5 percentage points.

The state office stands by it's statistics. However, testing officials say it's impractical to gather data on the basic skills test until a universal student identification program is in place to track repeat test takers. That identification begins this fall, educators say.

"It is impossible to provide completely accurate information for this combination of nine tests (three tests for each of three administrations) administered over a two-year period," according to a prepared statement released by the State Office of Education and attributed to evaluation and assessment director Judy Park.

The possible discrepancy matters because lawmakers use test scores to make funding decisions. And because high schools will be accountable for performance to meet requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Beginning with the Class of 2006, all students must pass all three test sections to get a diploma. They'll have five chances to do it, beginning in their sophomore year. Those who don't pass can obtain an alternative completion diploma.

State statistics from February show there were 35,685 students in the Class of 2006.

Of those, 34,469 have passed the basic skills test reading exam, according to the state test contractor.

That should mean 97 percent of the class is passing, but the numbers don't hold up.

State databases also show that 3,401 test-takers failed the reading exam -- three times the number reported.

In math, 9,217 students are known to have failed nearly 50 percent higher than the state's report. In writing, 6,263 students failed nearly 70 percent higher than the state's report.

The state says only pass rates were used in their analysis. Fail rates were believed to leave too much room for error, in part because they could count the same student more than once.

"UBSCT data is rich and full. But it's also confusing . . . because there are so many data points," said John Jesse, Alpine District's research and evaluation director. "It's tough even for us as a district to sort it out. . . . I don't know how you produce accurate data statewide."

The State Office of Education also denied a request by the newspaper for more detailed data analysis, saying testing data won't be perfect until after the implementation of universal student identification numbers.

"This information can only be used for aggregate purposes. Efforts to use this information to estimate graduation rates, dropout rates, or specific number of students who still need to pass the test to receive a basic diploma is inappropriate, based on the current methods of data collection and reporting," according to a statement issued by the State Office of Education and attributed to Park.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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