SMMUSD HDQTRS — Is that “Pomp and Circumstance” playing?

Overall, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District students trounced a state exam necessary for graduating high school, and far exceeded both state and county-wide results, according to statistics released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

Low-income, English language learners and students with disabilities, however, did not fare so well within the district.

The California High School Exit Exam, or CAHSEE, is a test taken by high school sophomores to assess their competence in reading comprehension, writing and math through regular algebra. State law requires that students pass the exam to graduate high school, unless they have a learning disability.

Teachers, administrators and a panel of experts were pulled together to create the test after the Legislature reviewed the previous requirements for graduation in 2000 and deemed them too low to accurately determine if students were ready to move from high school into the real world.

Overall, 92 percent of the 924 SMMUSD 10th graders that took the math portion of the CAHSEE passed it, as did 93 percent of students who took the English section of the two-day test.

That’s compared to an 81 percent passing rate for both sections countywide, and 83 percent passage of the math and 82 percent of English at the state level.

“We are doing well each year,” said Sally Chou, assistant superintendent of instruction with the district. “Of course, the goal is always 100 percent, but that’s a little hard to come by. We’re above the state and county by quite a bit.”

Not all students within SMMUSD are riding the wave of success, however.

Low-income students, English language learners and those students with disabilities that choose to take the test lag behind in all categories, and are doing even worse than they did in the 2009-10 school year.

The state defines “economically disadvantaged” as a student that qualifies for a free or reduced-price lunch, or whose parent did not finish high school.

In the 2011 school year, only 84 percent of lower income students passed the math test on the first try, and 87 percent passed the English test. Non-disadvantaged students beat the math passage rates by 10 percentage points, and the English by 9.

Special education students, who can choose to take or not take the test, saw their passage rates fall by 11 percent for math, although the English rates rose by 1 percent to 58 percent passage.

The scores tell a typical tale within SMMUSD — although the district surpasses most others in the state, there is a notable gap between students of color, economically disadvantaged students and the rest of the population.

SMMUSD offers after school tutoring and even online courses to help students that don’t pass the CAHSEE improve their scores. They have another three chances to take the test in grade 11, and up to five additional opportunities senior year.

“They start gaining more skills and knowledge, eventually pass[ing] the exam,” Chou said. “They continue to learn in their grade levels, and we give additional support.”

Although resources are put into making sure students pass the test, more important to both the students and the district is reaching proficiency, which is a score of 380 out of 450 on each section of the test.

It’s harder to be rated “proficient” than to simply pass, and many students don’t strive for it, Chou said.

“There’s a notion of passing, and then passing a higher standard,” Chou said. “The idea here is passing is one thing, but for our students, proficiency is our standard.”

Those results will be released next week, said a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

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