More Stanislaus County sophomores are passing the high school exit exam, numbers released Tuesday show, with about four out of five clearing that graduation hurdle well before their junior prom.
The 2009-10 results show Johansen and Enochs high schools making strong gains. Davis High was up a bit, Beyer and Downey basically held steady and Modesto High slid a single percentage point.
In the Modesto City Schools district overall, 85 percent of sophomores passed the math portion of the test, and 79 percent passed the English portion, both up slightly. Across the county, more 10th- graders passed the English and math portions of the test — up 2 percentage points.
Statewide, 81 percent of students scheduled to graduate in 2012 have passed the exit exam, which tests knowledge of seventh- and eighth-grade course material. Students must pass both portions of the exit exam to earn diplomas. They get their first crack at it as sophomores.
Across Stanislaus county, Latino and black sophomores passed at rates closer to their white and Asian classmates. Latino sophomores posted a 2 percentage point gain while white students registered a 2 percentage point decline in passage of the math portion. For Latino and black 10th-graders, there was a 3 percentage point improvement in passage of the English portion, and whites held steady.
Statewide, the "achievement gap" is narrowing. Blacks and Latinos made gains while whites and Asians stayed basically flat.
Stanislaus County girls passed boys in English, 83 percent to 73 percent. The highest scorers of all were students who became fluent in English as a second language: 95 percent passed both sections of the test, first try.
Enochs tops in math
Enochs High had the highest math success rate in the county with 92 percent of its sophomores passing, a 6 percentage point gain over 2009. Johansen High improved in math by 8 percentage points and had a 4 percentage point jump by sophomores on the English portion.
"That's consistent with (Johansen testing scores released earlier this month). They jumped off the charts on those," said Emily Lawrence, director of assessment and evaluation for the Modesto district.
Thor Harrison, last year's Johansen principal, said the gains were from "teachers working hard." Harrison, who moved to an administrative post this year, said: "Really, it comes down to effective instruction."
In Turlock, Pitman High had 87 percent of its sophomores pass the English portion, a 5 percentage point gain. Turlock High School made small gains, up to 77 percent passing the math section and 74 percent passing English.
Ceres Unified is examining slight drops in its passing rates for math, said Deputy Superintendent Mary Jones.
"Certainly, the algebra is a huge part of the (exit exam). We're looking at that," Jones said Tuesday.
"One thing that's good in Ceres is practically all of our students are in college prep for English and what we're seeing is the students are performing at higher levels," Jones said.
The largest gain in the county was at Riverbank High School, which posted a 14 percentage point gain by sophomores on the English portion of the exam. Riverbank Superintendent Ken Geisick credited a beefed-up writing emphasis across every subject.
"This sophomore class has been engaged in this writing (program) since sixth grade," Geisick said.
For that one 10th-grader out of five who didn't pass, there are several chances each year to try again. Those who never pass the exit exam — about 5 percent statewide — can get certificates of completion.
Of seniors taking the last- chance test in May throughout the county, 131 failed to pass, including 46 in Modesto high schools.
Modesto high schools give the test five times each year, Lawrence said, plus freshmen start prepping with a pre-test.
"There are also intervention classes ... usually a few intensive prep classes" for juniors and seniors having trouble passing, Lawrence said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.