School adapts to test mandate

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Education: About 10 percent of 2013 class set to retake exam

It’s called the “high school competency exam,” and if you’re a parent with a child in the Los Alamos Public School System, you probably already know that.

What you may not know is, thanks to a recent change in state requirements students in their junior year of high school are now required to pass the test in order to graduate from high school. In other words, students in the graduating class of 2013 will be the first class that will have to pass the exam in order to graduate.

“It used to be that if you had all your credits, you’d be able to graduate,” said Assistant Superintendent Paula Dean. “Now you have to show on this test you are proficient in these subjects.”

The exam tests kids on how well they know science, math and reading. However, only math and reading count toward graduation scores. Students need at least a combined score of 2272.5 in these subjects to pass.

So how did those kids do when they took the test last year?

According to the stats, 28 students out of the class of ’13 failed to meet the requirements. That’s about 10 percent of the class of 268 students.

Even though a significant number of the students who didn’t pass had significant learning disabilities, which would have made passing the test impossible or at least very difficult, officials weren’t happy with the percentage, especially when the stats showed many came within just a few points of passing.

“Even among the 28 that didn’t pass, most of them were very close,” Dean said. According to documents many came within two or three points of the passing score.

However, students who don’t pass the test in their junior year of high school will have another chance this October to pass, an opportunity Dean said the school has already taken advantage of.  Before school began this year, Dean said they set up individual meetings with the students, their parents, a counselor and an administrator to work on a strategy that would help them pass.

Mainly that involved showing them how many points they were away from passing and what they need to do to get a passing grade or better. Other strategies included having the students sign contracts agreeing they would show up for special tutoring or attend Saturday School as well as enroll in classes at the virtual learning center.

Dean added that because of the new requirement, the days when students could refuse academic intervention are over. Since they need to pass the test to graduate, she said the kids have been very cooperative.

“Now, since passing this test is a requirement for graduation, every one of these kids said tell me what to do and I’ll do it,” Dean said. “I’m really pleased with the families and the kids because they responded so positively to this, I think they are going to make it.”

However, if they don’t, Dean said the state is also developing criteria that will guide school officials on what to do should that happen.

Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt said his district plans to follow and improve on this individualized form of strategy in the years to come.

“I believe the district really is committed to leaving no child behind,” Schmidt said. “We are providing the opportunities and the staffing that if you’re a motivated student, we are going to help you achieve your goals.”