The State Office of Education's count of graduating seniors passing the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test doesn't align with district reports.

The state's largest school districts are reporting pass rates in the 80 and 90 percent range. They account for about half of Utah's public school enrollment.

The state, on the other hand, reports a 74 percent pass rate statewide.

Associate superintendent Judy Park was surprised by the differences Thursday.

"No way should we have this kind of discrepancy," she said. "In all honesty, I hope we're wrong."

So who's right?

Testing directors in a handful of local districts wonder if the state's pass rates are too low, especially considering some of those districts typically score near state averages.

State director of assessment and accountability Deborah Swensen says there are a few reasons the numbers differ, including 8,300 students who can't be tracked down by what's supposed to be a state ID number. But, she adds: "This (data) is as accurate as the information we have."

State law requires students, beginning in their sophomore year, to pass all three basic skills test sections in reading, writing and math, and gives them up to five times to do it.

If they don't pass, one of two things might happen. If they at least took the test three times but still failed, they get a high school diploma that states they did not pass the exam. Anything less, and they get a certificate of completion. Students who repeatedly fail can get a state voucher for tutoring help.

This year, some 9,500 students, or 26 percent, didn't pass all three sections, the State Office of Education reported this week.

But Davis School District wonders about that number. Just over 91 percent of its students have passed the test, assessment and research director Chris Wahlquist reports.

"Usually, Davis School District is a very close mirror for state data," Wahlquist said. "The demographics of Davis School District are very similar to the statewide demographics."

Granite School District, whose test performance is typically right around, or slightly below, the state's, says 81 percent of seniors are passing the exam, said Darryl Thomas, director of research, assessment and evaluation.

Jordan School District posts a 90.3 percent pass rate for the Class of 2007. Alpine School District posts a 92 percent pass rate for graduating seniors, director of research and evaluation John Jesse said.

Both districts typically outscore the state on tests. But not by this much, Jesse said.

"It's a little surprising to me that it (the state number) would be that low ... given our pass rate and Jordan's pass rate," Jesse said. "Maybe we're calculating it differently ... maybe the state's calculating it somewhat differently."

That is true.

State numbers include students who are severely disabled and qualify to take an alternative assessment. District numbers don't.

Davis did, however, run its numbers with those students, plus students in detention centers, and came up with about an 85.6 percent pass rate — still much higher than the state's tally.

Another difference: The State Office of Education is using the Oct. 1 official head count to calculate pass rates, mainly because that's all it has, Swensen said.

But enrollment for the class of 2007 has shrunk by about 500 students every year since fall 2004, state numbers show.

Districts are using more current head counts — April 25 in Davis, for instance — likely boosting accuracy. If you divide the number of students who've passed a test by a bigger number of students enrolled, your pass rates will drop.

"I would have a question as to the enrollment count used based on Oct. 1 when tests and tested enrollment probably differed by February when the last test was given for the senior class," Wahlquist said. "When the enrollment count is based on Oct. 1, the number of students not proficient seems to be the remainder of students after the proficient ones are subtracted out. And that may not accurately reflect the remaining students in the senior class."

Another issue: About 8,300 students cannot be tracked down, even though the state has implemented what's supposed to be a universal ID that follows students wherever they move in Utah, Swensen said. The state can't figure out if they're seniors, juniors or sophomores, she said.

In some instances, students took the tests with an incorrect student ID, Swensen said. Some took the test without an ID at all. Others took the test, but are not included in the Oct. 1 head count.

The state told districts as much in recent weeks, Swensen said. And districts largely stepped up to sort things out, as there used to be twice as many untracked students, she said. Districts can cross reference their own student IDs and other information to make sure everything lines up.

Indeed, the states' student ID, expected to solve many of the state's headaches in tracking students as they move around and take a test up to five times, is not perfect.

"It's a great thing, it's a smart thing," Jesse said, "but I don't think it's fully implemented. It doesn't solve all your issues, either."

School districts might end up assigning a student a second ID if they're not careful with handling new students, Thomas said.

In all, Swensen believes the differences "could have a little bit of impact" on the state's overall showing.

"We'll look at it again, but we need the districts' help," she said, adding "it's not a negative against districts; they work so hard to get everything in."

She believes that if the students can be tracked down, and other calculations were made similar to school districts', "we'd be a lot closer together in our percentages.

"If I'm missing one student, it's important to me," Swensen said. "We need to look more into this."


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