Eighty percent of the Class of 2008 has received passing marks on the state's graduation test that determines whether or not students will get a "regular" high school diploma.

On Thursday, the Utah State Office of Education reported a nearly 2 percent increase in passing rates over the class of 2007, a boost leaders attribute to district remediation programs and greater focus on achievement.

"What it shows is that efforts are working — whatever is happening is having an impact, and we are seeing it in more students passing the test. But it's something we need to continually work on and adjust," said Judy Park, associate state superintendent.

The report also indicated improvement in most student subgroups compared to 2007 — the highest being more than 11 percent among Native Americans.

"All of the schools have been doing a lot of work with remediation and really focus around helping students improve — those additional efforts have helped students prepare and get their skills up," Park said.

Schools have also been focused on earlier identification of those students who are struggling by looking at grades and other test scores, and starting efforts to give them additional assistance early on, Park said.

Since 2006, Utah graduating seniors have been required to complete the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test in addition to their school's required classes in order to graduate with a regular high school diploma. Those who do not pass all three sections of UBSCT — math, reading and writing — before their senior year do not receive a regular diploma, but a certificate of completion instead.

Students are allowed five attempts to pass each test, beginning in the spring of their sophomore year.

If a student attempts the test three or more times and fails to pass, they are still eligible for a diploma if they have also completed their graduation requirements. But their diplomas and transcripts will indicate they did not pass the UBSCT.

Districts have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on remediation programs to help struggling students. The state also offers reimbursement through stipends if a student ends up passing the test after remediation. Those stipends can go to private tutoring companies.

Rhonda Bromley, spokeswoman for Alpine School District, said the district focuses on collaboration and communication between junior high and high schools, UBSCT practice tests, UBSCT remediation classes, UBSCT preparation classes and take-home UBSCT packets full of practice tests and prep material that reviews main concepts.

Alpine school leaders said they spent around $110,000 on UBSCT preparation and remediation programs.

In the past two years, Jordan School District has spent around $125,000 on before- and after-school remediation courses as well as building remediation classes into the schools' course offerings.

So far, nearly 77 percent of next year's class has passed all three sections of UBSCT while 64 percent of students in the Class of 2010 have also passed. The Class of 2009 still has two more attempts to pass and 2010 grads have four more attempts to pass.

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