Tuesday, June 06, 2000

More seniors pass proficiency test

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Amber Clark of West High: "I can't tell you how loud I screamed."
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Amber Clark was about ready to give up. She had failed the math portion of the Ohio Ninth Grade Proficiency Test four times since eighth grade, once by a single point. There was no way she was going through that humiliation again, and she was willing to go without her diploma and the chance at college.

        “I really didn't want to take it again, and I was ready to throw it all away,” said Amber, a 17-year-old from Westwood who will attend cosmetology school and North Carolina A&T Uni versity next fall. “I can't tell you how loud I screamed when I found out I passed. But I wouldn't have done it without having this class and these friends.”

        Amber and 21 fellow seniors at Western Hills High School were among 1,957 seniors statewide who were able to pass all four portions of the proficiency test in their final attempt to qualify for an on-time graduation, according to results released Monday by the Ohio Department of Education.

Each district's results at:
        That overall number is about 47 percent of those Ohio students who still had to pass the test to qualify for their diplomas — leaving a total of 2,200 who couldn't graduate this spring.

        According to state officials, 98 percent of all members of the Class of 2000 passed all four of the required portions of the test, which is first administered in eighth grade.

        State law requires seniors to have passed math, reading, writing and citizenship before receiving their diplomas, and students have several chances throughout their high-school careers to retake the test. Next year, seniors also will be required to pass a science test.

        The state uses proficiency scores to rate individual school districts on annual district report cards — with the state requiring at least 75 percent of students to pass.

        Of the 48 districts in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties, all but five had 75 percent of 10th-graders pass four or five of the test's five portions. Of those five districts, four were in Hamilton County's inner-city or lower middle-income areas.

        Starting in 2004, graduating students will be required to pass all five portions of a new 10th-grade proficiency test that will supplant the ninth- and 12th-grade tests. The state will start administering the new 10th-grade test in March 2003.

        Entering this May's test — the final chance before graduation — 3.4 percent of seniors had not passed one or more portions of the test.

        Among those students was Ms. Clark, who gathered with four classmates Monday to talk about the test she was finally able to pass — a process she credited to a new intervention program at Western Hills High that stressed camaraderie and individual attention from teachers.

        According to Runita Derkson, who passed the math test in March but helped her classmates who didn't cram for the May test, teachers need to put more emphasis on the original test.

        “When we first took it in eighth or ninth grade, the teachers acted like it wasn't a big deal, so we didn't treat it like a big deal,” said Runita, 17, who also received her diploma last week and is planning to attend Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., in the fall. “Then, each time it got tougher, because the stakes got raised. If I had known the trouble it would have caused, I would have tried a lot harder on that first test.”

        Each of the five young women told stories of tears and sleepless nights over the test, as additional tries brought more stress.

        “Sometimes, I felt really bad about myself,” said Leeanne Gross, an 18-year-old Cheviot resident who is headed for the College of Mount St. Joseph this fall. “And boy, would it have ruined my life if I hadn't passed this last time.”

        Teacher Melanie Goldfuss-Ponder, who ran the intervention program, said that students not only get mental blocks about the test, but that the test gets harder academically as students progress.

        “The math test, for example, is based on pre-algebra, and kids just stop using that stuff as they get older,” said Ms. Goldfuss-Ponder, 27, in her third year at Cincinnati Public Schools. “And we don't get the specific tests back, so we only see the areas where individual kids do poorly. That makes it harder to correct mistakes.”


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