Most students graduating from high school on the North Coast aren't doing it with a certificate of initial mastery, state figures showed Wednesday.

But critics contend the discrepancy is created by the certificate itself.

The CIM and the certificate of advanced mastery, CAM, were established by the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century, an education reform bill passed by the 1991 Legislature that was intended to set higher academic standards.

To earn the certificate of initial mastery, students must pass statewide tests in reading and literature, math and science, and they must meet performance standards in classroom work samples in math, writing and public speaking.

But two years ago, just a third of Oregon students earned the CIM. While that figure climbed to 37 percent for the class of 2005, nearly every district in Clatsop County fell below the state average.

All 11 students graduating in Jewell in 2005 earned the CIM. Jewell Superintendent John Seeley said the district is able to fund scholarships for the high-schoolers as an incentive for earning the achievement certificates.

Only about 35 percent of Warrenton students, 30 percent of Seaside students and 23 percent of Knappa students finished school with the certificates in the same year.

A steady decline can be seen in the Astoria School District, where 19 percent of the 142 students finishing high school last year left with a CIM. That's compared to 23 percent of students finishing with the certificate in-hand in 2004, down from 30 percent in 2003.

Astoria High School Principal Larry Lockett said the certificates' standards aren't realistic, although they help schools by showing them areas to improve in.

"It's a fantasy," Lockett said. "It's one you'd like all of your kids to get to, but it's not a realistic gauge of what a high school diploma should be."

For example, to pass the CIM math test, students must have completed Algebra II by their sophomore year, but many people aren't yet at that level, he said.

"I don't think it's a good indicator of what a high school student is learning," Lockett said.

State schools Superintendent Susan Castillo has proposed scrapping the certificates for a "more ambitious" approach to high school education. Criticizing the achievement certificates in December, she said while aimed at higher standards and better accountability, neither CIM nor CAM is widely understood by the public or used by the state. In addition, the certificates are not mandatory for graduation, giving them little significance to students, she said.

In a statement released Wednesday, she applauded schools meeting the high standards but again pushed for a new approach.

"The CIM represents a high level of achievement, and I appreciate the hard work it takes for students and schools to reach these standards," Castillo said. "However, CIM distribution is very uneven across the state ... As it stands now, the CIM is not meaningful for all students."

She said she is working with the Oregon Board of Education and various partners to develop a new set of high school requirements that will "make sense to students, parents, educators, employers and colleges."

"Together," Castillo said, "we will create a system that builds on the foundation of high standards and high achievements."