Each year, more California students pass the state's high school exit exam on their first try as sophomores, meeting the requirement needed to graduate with diplomas, according to test results released Wednesday.

"We are making progress, but our collective ability to make this upward trend continue will indeed be tested this year as our schools are forced and asked to do more with less," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. "I'm concerned with lost learning opportunities."

Statewide, 79.2 percent of 10th-graders passed the English language arts tests in one attempt, up more than 2 percentage points from the class of 2008. Last year's sophomores did well on the math portion, with 79.8 percent acing the test in one sitting, up 4.3 percent from class of 2008 scores.

The test ensures that all students who earn diplomas have minimum English and math skills, O'Connell said. In Contra Costa and Alameda counties, more than 80 percent of sophomores passed both exams.

By the end of their senior years, about 90.6 percent of California students in the class of 2009 had passed the test. But more than 45,000 California students who should have graduated with diplomas in 2009 failed to pass both exams.

Dick Nicoll, interim superintendent of the Mt. Diablo school district, said most students who do not pass the test in his schools have also failed to meet course requirements. In the Mt. Diablo district, 84 percent of sophomores passed the English portion of the test last year and 82 percent passed the math section.


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"Every student is important, and we have many programs that assist students," he said. "It is our expectation that every student would pass and would graduate. That's our goal."

As has been shown in recently released STAR and ACT test results, an achievement gap exists between ethnic groups in California. More than 95 percent of white and Asian students passed the exams by the end of their senior years, compared with about 86 percent of Latino teens and 81 percent of blacks.

However, test results showed more black and Hispanic students are passing the tests on their first attempts than in the class of 2008, indicating a narrowing gap. About 65 percent of first-time Latino students passed the tests in 2008, compared to more than 70 percent in the class of 2011.

Black students' scores rose from about 57 percent in math and 65 percent in English for first-time test-takers in the class of 2008 to 64 and 68 percent, respectively, in the class of 2011.

Scores for whites rose from nearly 88 percent first-time test takers in the class of 2008 to almost 90 percent in math in the class of 2011, and from 89.8 percent to 90.7 percent in English.

Because some students are repeat-test takers, the percentage of students who pass at all grade levels is lower than the percentage for first-timers. Statewide, about 61 percent of all students who took the tests passed, compared with roughly 63 percent of Alameda County students and 66 percent of Contra Costa County students.

This year, some special education students are exempt from the requirement to pass the tests, as part of the state budget deal. O'Connell said this shift shortchanges students with disabilities.

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California high school exit exam results are at http://cahsee.cde.ca.gov