SMMUSD HDQTRS — They may only be in the 10th grade but graduation is clearly on many of their minds.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday released results of the 2009 California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), showing students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District continuing to post high marks in the subject areas of math and English language arts (ELA) with 92 percent of 10th graders passing both.

The test is administered to all students starting their sophomore year as a graduation requirement and must be taken every year thereafter until they pass. The results are used to calculate the Academic Performance Index for state accountability purposes and the Adequate Yearly Progress, which determines whether districts have met requirements of the federal education bill No Child Left Behind.

The district has overall shown gradual improvement in both subjects since 2004 when 89 percent of sophomores passed math and 91 percent in English language arts.

“It is rewarding to see continued progress toward our goal of 100 percent passage rate for all 10th graders,” Superintendent Tim Cuneo said. “We are pleased to see many of our students passing this exam on their first try and will continue to provide additional support and tutoring for students who need to retake the exam in the 11th or even 12th grade.”

Schools in Los Angeles County and the state have also increased their scores but still sit well below the SMMUSD. Approximately 77 percent of 10th graders in the county passed math and ELA, while 80 and 79 percent of students in the state passed math and ELA, respectively.

The results also show a narrowing of the academic achievement gap in Santa Monica and Malibu. African-American and Latino students have improved their scores in math by 12 and 14 percent, respectively, since 2005. Economically disadvantaged students have similarly seen their scores go up by 14 percent in math.

But there’s been some regression in ELA for African-American students since 2005, dropping by 3 percent while Latino students have increased their scores by 8 percent. Asian students have also dropped their ELA scores by 4 percent.

Overall about 74 percent of African-American students passed the ELA section this year.

Peggy Harris, the director of curriculum and instruction, said she was hopeful that the new adopted language arts materials and professional development will provide teachers with additional tools to address the issue of achievement in English language arts.

“It is unacceptable to us as a school district to see that approximately one quarter of 10th grade African-American students did not pass the English language arts section of the CAHSEE,” Harris said. “It is deeply troubling to realize that this year’s passage rate is essentially the same as it was four years ago.”

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