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More students meet reading benchmark

ST. PAUL - New test results show three out of four high school sophomores met reading requirements needed for graduation.

The Minnesota Department of Education said that an average of 75 percent of 10th graders passed a reading test and that the tougher exam yielded improvements over last year.

Results released Monday also show that while more students are passing the test, racial and economic achievement gaps remain.

More than 65,000 students took the exam earlier this year. The department has not yet released data showing how results varied by district, but said schools can start helping students who did not pass to study for a second attempt.

Education officials made the exam more rigorous for 2008. Results show that on average students in eight different groups scored higher on the test, which includes grammar and reading comprehension, than did sophomores in 2007.

"When students start to take the test seriously, their test scores improve," Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said. "We hope that these scores will continue to improve."

While the statewide average proficiency was 75 percent, there were disparities. Caucasian students scored the highest with an 82 percent passage rate, but less than half of Hispanic and black students met the benchmark.

Students from low-income families also scored below the state average with only 54 percent meeting the requirement. Fifty-five percent of American Indian students passed.

"The achievement gap is something that's persisted for a number of years, so this is not a surprise that we have disparities between all students and subgroups of students," Seagren said.

Reading proficiency is part of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which are used to show student achievement and schools' progress toward federal No Child Left Behind goals. Students can meet the reading graduation benchmark either by passing the assessment itself or by correctly answering specific questions.

School districts have individual results, so they can identify students who will need remedial reading courses before taking a similar test again, Seagren said. There is no limit on the number of times a student can take the exam. Some of those students who failed can complete the extra work during summer school.

But the timing of the release is too late for many summer school programs, said Tom Dooher, president of the teachers' union Education Minnesota.

"Just getting the results now makes it difficult to assess what the students' needs are," Dooher said, and how teachers can tailor help to each student before next school year.

Federal law only requires proficiency in math and reading, but students also must pass a writing test to graduate. They took the writing test as freshmen; math proficiency is tested in grade 11.