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9 County Campuses to Test State Exit Exams

Education: Members of the Class of 2004 will be the first students who are required to answer the math and language arts questions to graduate high school.


Nine Ventura County campuses will be among 200 California high schools to participate in a field test of the state's first exit exam, which students will soon be required to pass to graduate.

Participating high schools in the county include Oak Park, Nordhoff, Fillmore, Santa Paula, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, Newbury Park, Westlake and Buena Vista, a continuation school in Ventura.

Beginning next week, nearly 500 10th-graders at these schools will take tests in language arts or math as part of a statewide trial of questions that will appear on the exit exam. State education officials plan to select final questions based on the performance of students from different races, genders and backgrounds.

Test developers have selected high- and low-performing schools to take part in the field test so they can make sure that the questions are not too difficult and that they don't discriminate against any population, officials said. The field test will be administered to 12,000 high school students statewide.

"We will have sampled carefully from all demographic groups," said Bob Anderson, a state Department of Education administrator in charge of the exit exam. "That will allow us to ensure that the test questions are unbiased."

A few of the Ventura County high schools, including Oak Park, volunteered for the field test.

"We're always interested in finding out a little bit about what we might be up against," said Dave Becker, assistant principal at Oak Park High. "We want to find out as much as we can."

About 60 Oak Park students will participate. Becker said he wanted to take part in development of the exam and hopes that the school will be able to provide feedback to the state.

The exit exam, which was signed into law in April 1999, is one of Gov. Gray Davis' education reforms. The Class of 2004--next year's ninth-graders--will be the first class required to pass the exam.

Students will get their first crack at the test next spring, when schools can give it on a voluntary basis. In 2002, about 400,000 10th-graders will take the official exam. And they must pass it by the 12th grade to receive their diplomas.

The test will cover the state's math standards through algebra and English-language arts standards through 10th grade.

The test developers, Washington-based American Institutes for Research, have written 800 questions in language arts and math, and will pare that number to 200 for the official exit exam. They will also choose two writing prompts from the 24 available.

Tony Gaitan, principal of Santa Paula High School, said he was eager to have 60 of his students take part.

"This is our opportunity to give our input about the test now, instead of waiting," he said.

Making sure that the questions are unbiased is especially important at a campus such as Santa Paula High, where more than 80% of the students are Latino, Gaitan said.

Several other campuses in Ventura County have large enrollments of Latino students--77% at Fillmore High, 70% at Channel Islands High and 66% at Rio Mesa High.

Gaitan said he wants to do everything possible to make sure that all of his students are prepared for the exit exam. He sent letters telling incoming freshmen about the test and contacted the middle schools to identify low-performing students. The school also plans to administer the test to every ninth-grader next year.

Students will take the field tests Monday through May 24, and an independent evaluator will analyze the results and present them to the State Board of Education in July.

The test developers also will conduct a final field test in the fall to determine the cutoff scores.

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