City, county students make headway on Gateway exams

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The test scores are very high.
   Gateway exams apparently do not pose an enormous problem to Elizabethton and Carter County high school students, according to test results released by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE).
   The TDOE released scores reported that 89 percent of the 215 Elizabethton city school students taking the Algebra I exam passed while over 99 percent of 168 students taking the Biology I exam passed during the 2001-2002 school year.
   "We were very pleased with the results," said Dr. Judy Blevins, superintendent of Elizabethton City Schools. "Those teachers worked diligently all year on their methodology. My hat is off to those teachers and all of their efforts."
   Sixty-eight percent of 339 Carter County students who took the Gateway Algebra I exam passed while 97 percent of 317 county students who took the Biology I exam passed, according to results released by the TDOE.
   However, Blevins felt state-released percentages could be in error. She said the city system only had one student that didn't pass the Algebra I exam and posted a 100 percent student pass rate for the Biology I exam. She also stated that all eighth grade students at T.A. Dugger Junior High School passed the Algebra I exam.
   Statewide average had 77.5 percent of Tennessee high schoolers passing Algebra I and 94 percent passing Biology I.
   Cloudland, Hampton and Happy Valley high schools scored slightly below the state wide average in algebra.
   The three schools scored higher than the state average of 93 percent proficiency in biology. All 95 Happy Valley students who took the Biology I exam passed, according to results released by the state.
   Students who do not pass the Gateway exam on their first attempt undergo remedial studies to help boost their chances when they re-test.
   "For those who took it this time and didn't pass it, the state requires we provide some form of intervention, tutoring, computer programs, or whatever we can do to help them," said Dr. Shirley Ellis, director of Federal Programs and Testing with Carter County Schools.
   Unaka High School posted the lowest scores in the Algebra exam at 57 percent -- roughly 20 percent below the state average -- while posting a 93 percent pass rate in Biology I.
   "We are doing a lot of remedial work to try and improve those scores," added John Fine, principal at Unaka High School. "We have two classes specially set up for biology review and algebra review."
   Fine said his school was actively steering students into Algebra I classes to prepare them for the Gateway exam. He said the school's freshman class performed well on the Algebra and Biology exams, but the overall scores were hurt by low scores posted by an another class.
   "All of our freshmen did real well, but we had another class by itself which were mostly juniors, seniors and sophomores who have been struggling with math all through school," said Fine. "They had to take the Gateway also. Those kids did real bad on it.
   "Those are the same students who didn't have to pass it. That is why perhaps the scores weren't as good."
   Fine said some of the school's special education classes took the Biology exam.
   He also said there were several students who would be juniors in the coming school year that still had not passed the TCAP competency test -- the state's former high school exit examination.
   In an effort to improve academics for high school students and bolster academic accountability, the State Board of Education designated 10 high school courses for the development of End-of-Course examinations. The exams became the Gateway exam.
   Beginning with freshmen entering high school in 2001-02, students must pass three of these tests -- English II, Algebra I and Biology -- before graduation to earn a high school diploma. These tests are referred to as the Gateway exams.
   All students must complete high school level courses of Algebra I and Biology I before taking the Gateway exams.
   Ultimately, the Gateways will total 10 tests including Algebra II, Geometry, Math Foundations II Physical Science, Chemistry, and US History exams.
   All 10 of Gateway assessments will count as part of the course grade for any student enrolled in the related course.
   The state requires schools to count Gateway exam scores as a minimum of 15 percent of a student's course grade.
   Elizabethton City Schools count the Gateway scores at 15 percent, said Blevins.
   The county and city system scores were competitive to several surrounding school systems.
   In Unicoi County, 88.6 percent of students passed the Algebra I exams while 99.4 passed the Biology I exam.
   Ninety-four percent of Science Hill High School students passed Algebra I exams while 99 percent passed the Biology I exam.
   State-released results had 83 percent of 138 Johnson County students passing the Algebra exam and 100 percent of that county's 91 students passing the Biology I exam.