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Passing scores for basic skills test may be raised

Minority college students continue to fare poorly on a state-required basic skills test that may become tougher to pass this fall. But some state education leaders say the plan to toughen the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) could be setting up students to fail.

"I think that we're going to see devastation in our students," said Sydel B. LeGrande of the state Board of Community Colleges, which met at St. Petersburg Junior College (SPJC) on Friday.

But board member Philip Benjamin said there is a fine line between keeping passing scores low so more students can pass and making sure students can demonstrate basic academic skills.

The CLAST is a four-part test required for community college students who earn associate of arts degrees and for public university students to advance into upper-level courses needed for a bachelor's degree.

In February, 32 percent of the black students, 42 percent of the Hispanic students and 67 percent of the white students who took the CLAST for the first time passed all four parts. When all who took the test are counted, 60 percent of the students passed.

In August, the state Board of Education will decide whether to raise the minimum passing scores from 285 to 295 on the math portion and from 4 to 5 on the essay portion. The minimum passing scores for the reading and English language skills portions would remain the same.

If those higher standards had been applied to the February tests, just 41 percent of the students would have passed.

"I'm very reluctant to move ahead on any additional requirements . . . until we see some more improvement (in the scores)," said state Education Commissioner Betty Castor, a member of the state Board of Community Colleges. "But I don't think my opinion is necessarily prevailing."

She urged the state Board of Community Colleges to adopt a position on the proposed changes at its meeting in July.

Here are some school-by-school results for students who took the CLAST for the first time in February and passed all four sections: Central Florida Community College, 51 percent; Florida A&M University, 40 percent; Florida State University, 80 percent; Hillsborough Community College, 61 percent; Pasco-Hernando Community College, 60 percent; SPJC, 63 percent; University of Florida, 83 percent; and University of South Florida, 69 percent.