LIVINGSTON -- Sophomores at Livingston High School are getting a pat on the back.
Eighty-seven percent of the Livingston sophomores who took the English and language arts portion of the high school exit exam passed it on their first try -- a leap of 8 percentage points over the previous year. Sophomores also did well on the math portion of the two-day test.
Livingston students did so well that state educators grilled Principal Ralph Calderon about the secret of the success. "We've got a fantastic group of kids who really value education here," Calderon said. Livingston High has 301 sophomores.
Representatives of the American Institute of Research and the state Department of Education first called Calderon about a month ago to ask about high California High School Exit Exam scores and a high graduation rate.
The state educators then visited the campus May 12, interviewing staff members, administrators and students. Their findings will be published in a state Department of Education report.
Calderon said Livingston's graduation rate is 91.16 percent, compared with the average of 86 percent for other Merced Union High School District campuses and a statewide average of 78 percent.
Merced Union High School District Superintendent Scott Scambray said exit exam scores went up across the district, not just in Livingston.
"Atwater, Golden Valley and Buhach Colony had gains," Scambray said. "I'm just proud of them, all the staff and students. They are giving forth their best efforts and the gains are remarkable over the last year."
Scott Weimer, Livingston associate principal for assessment and accountability, said 22 sophomore students had perfect scores on the math portion of the exit exam and four had perfect scores on the English portion.
"It's a huge jump for us," Weimer said. "The kids did their part and teachers did a great job this year."
The exit exam was administered in March. Students took a practice test, and those who looked as though they wouldn't pass did after-school work online and computer lab drills every Friday, Weimer said.
Calderon said 84 percent of the school's sophomores passed the math portion, an increase of three percentage points over last year. Students must pass the exit exam by their sen-ior year to receive a diploma.
When they first began giving the exit exam about eight years ago, initial passage rates were in the high 60s to low 70 percent range, Calderon said. Students have three chances a year to pass the exam.
"Eight percent growth is just incredible. It's a feel-good moment as we move to improve our Academic Performance Index. Our work seems to have paid off," Calderon said.
Calderon said teachers focused on writing skills in elective classes and set up tutorials to address weaknesses identified in some students.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.