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Lincoln High seniors passed exit exam at higher rate

By: Patty McAlpin Lincoln News Messenger reporter
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Last year’s Lincoln High School seniors passed the California High School Exit Exam by 12th grade at a higher rate than their counterparts statewide, according to Mary Boyle, Western Placer Unified School District assistant superintendent of educational services. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson said in a release Aug. 22 that the percentage of students from the class of 2012 meeting the California High School Exit Examination graduation requirement increased slightly over last year to 95 percent overall, marking the sixth straight year of performance. This was an increase of 0.8 percent of a percentage point over the previous year and an increase of 4.6 percentage points since the Class of 2006, the first class required to pass the California High School Exit Exam. “By the time our students reach their senior year, usually 97 or 98 percent of the class has passed,” Boyle said. Lincoln High School Principal Jay Berns said much of the success can be attributed to the “hard work of our teachers from kindergarten all the way to senior year in high school.” “Teachers are constantly assessing the learning of the students to determine, ‘did they learn it?’” Berns said. The test is given to ensure students who graduate from public high schools demonstrate competency in reading, writing and mathematics. Seniors can take the test once in 10th grade, two times in 11th grade and four times in 12th grade. Western Placer Unified School District will offer the test in October, February and March. The district is also considering offering the test in July to students in summer school. In 2012, 382 Lincoln High School sophomores took the English language arts and mathematics portions of the exit exam. Of the overall number, 88 percent passed the English language arts exam and 85 percent passed the mathematics exam. “This is wonderful, the best we’ve achieved so far,” Boyle said. “Math was down a couple of percentage points from the previous year but that’s still very strong.” In comparison, 42 percent of English learners and 81 percent of learners considered fluent in English passed the English language arts exam and 67 percent or English learners and 80 percent of learners considered fluent in English passed the mathematics exam. Students in the socio-economically disadvantaged category, meaning those who qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program, passed the English language arts portion at a 77 percent rate and the mathematics portion at an 80 percent rate. “We are very proud of the significant improvement in English learners and SED students passing the first time,” Boyle said. Of those taking the exit exam in 2006, 27 percent of English learners passed the English language arts portion of the exam the first time and 58 percent passed the mathematics exam the first time. Sixty-six percent of socio-economically disadvantaged students passed the English language arts exam and 70 percent the mathematics exam in 2006 on the first attempt. Those who were considered English language fluent were not listed as a separate category in 2006. “We look at each student to see if we are being effective with that student,” Boyle said. “If we are not, we change our instruction. Teachers get together in learning communities, for example all math teachers, to look at our instruction and student pass rates on assessments every two weeks. We look at student achievement and see what needs to be changed to help students achieve at higher rates.” Berns said that educators have taken the “guess work out of education to determine if and when they need to intervene.” Interventions at the high school include the STRIPES period, which allows teachers to re-teach and support struggling or reluctant learners, peer tutoring offered in the library, an intensive California High School Exit Exam class to help students struggling to pass the exam and AVID classes that support student learning by teaching study skills, organizational skills and note-taking skills. Study skills classes are offered for students who are eligible for special education. Classes are offered for newcomers learning to speak English. Program specialist Lynn Kelso said teachers are using pictures, sentence frames, music and vocabulary development to help students learn English. They are also pre-teaching the setting of a story so students learning English can understand the content of a story. For example, the teacher and students might make French toast in the classroom to introduce a story involving that topic. “You have to have a frame of reference,” Kelso said. “Those types of strategies are making a difference in our classrooms.” Kelso said it typically takes a student five years to become fluent in English. Students are tested annually to determine progress.