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Education Reporter

New Tests Stumping Students
MESA, AZ - Last year, 84% of Arizona 10th graders failed a new state math test; 88% failed in 1999, the pilot year. A new state writing exam garnered only marginally better results, but 61% did pass the new reading exam. Arizona education officials now say they will put off making the exams a requirement for graduation until at least 2004.

According to the New York Times (12-22-00), one-third of the 23 states that have introduced new standardized tests during the past few years are scaling back the level of difficulty or postponing requirements that students pass the tests in order to graduate. Alaska's requirement that sophomores pass a new math test has been advanced to 2006. California is cutting its new math test from 3 hours to 2 hours and eliminating questions on advanced algebraic concepts such as quadratic equations. Officials in Maryland have delayed until 2007 a requirement calling for students to pass five new exams by 2005.

Critics blame the difficulty of new state standards - what students should be required to know - for the widespread failure, particularly on math tests. Arizona mathematics teacher David M. Smith told the New York Times that the state committee (composed of teachers appointed by state education officials) responsible for drafting the new standards had not been informed by the Board of Education that all the concepts they included, no matter how difficult, would be fair game for test questions. "We protested the difficulty of the standards at every step, but were told that they couldn't be changed," he said.

Others complained that the 10th-grade math exam contained questions about concepts that wouldn't be taught until 12th grade and that no state funds were allotted for test preparation.

In New York, thousands of students may not graduate this spring because of a new Regents math exam that becomes a graduation requirement in 2001. Students who entered high school in the fall of 1996 are the first to be held to the new state standards and required to pass the tougher Regents exams.

The New York Times reported (11-8-00) that just over half of high school seniors in New York City have passed the new math test. New York education officials said that, statewide, "preliminary numbers show only 49% of students who entered high school in fall 1996 reaching the standard" - a passing score of 55 or more.

New York's Regents exams in math and English may be taken at any time during the high school years. A score of 55 is currently a passing grade, but it will be raised to 65 on the English exam for those graduating in 2004. By 2008, students will be required to score 65 or more on five state exams in order to graduate.

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