The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District reached an all-time high this year for first-time test takers passing the tenth grade California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), continuing to outpace the state and county passage rates, test results show.

According to exam results released by the California Department of Education, 92 percent of first time test takers in the school district passed the English Language Arts (ELA) exam, and 92 percent passed the mathematics portion of the test.

In addition to the use of the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement, the test results are used in calculating the Academic Performance Index for state accountability purposes and Adequate Yearly Progress to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

Across the state, the percentage of tenth graders passing the mathematics exam increased to 80 percent, a gain of two percentage points over 2008. The Santa Monica-Malibu district gained one percentage point over the previous year. For English Language Arts, SMMUSD improved to an all-time high, while the statewide passage rate remained flat at 79 percent.

“It is rewarding to see continued progress toward our goal of a 100 percent passage rate for all tenth graders,” said Tim Cuneo, SMMUSD superintendent. “We are pleased to see so many of our students passing this exam on their first try and will continue to provide additional support and tutoring for students who need to re-take the exam in the 11th or even 12th grade.

“Each of the district’s high schools have CAHSEE tutoring programs in place and students will have several additional opportunities to re-take the (exam) in November, March, May, and/or July. We are determined to see that all of our students meet the CAHSEE requirement prior to their graduation date.”

Over the past five years with the math portion, the district has narrowed the achievement gap significantly for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students with disabilities, data show.

But efforts to narrow the gap in ELA passage rates have yielded less dramatic results, and there is concern over the passage rates for African American students, school officials say.

Peggy Harris, director of Curriculum and Instruction, said, “It is unacceptable to us as a school district to see that approximately one quarter of tenth grade African American students did not pass the English language arts section of the CAHSEE. It is deeply troubling to realize that this year’s passage rate is essentially the same as it was four years ago.”

“We anticipate that newly adopted language arts materials and professional development associated with the adoption will provide teachers with additional tools for this critical work.”