Astoria, Seaside, Knappa and Jewell ahead of the game with Certificates of Initial MasteryNorth Coast school districts awarded a third of 2003 high school graduates a Certificate of Initial Mastery in addition to their diplomas, the Oregon Department of Education reported.

Statewide, 28.5 percent of seniors earned CIMs - less than local districts.

"I'm not surprised," said Superintendent Doug Dougherty of Seaside's success. "We've been working very hard."

Thirty-seven percent of Seaside graduates earned CIMs last year. Astoria reported 30 percent.

To earn the CIM, students must pass standardized tests in reading/literature, writing, mathematics, mathematical problem solving and science. They must also submit work samples, which are scored to specific state guidelines.

While not a diploma requirement, and not likely to become one, the CIM is a marker of how well students are performing academically.

"It gives us a big picture ... and allows us to make curriculum adjustments," said Astoria High School Principal Larry Lockett. "As far as the individual student is concerned, confidence-wise, it helps them to take a big test like that, and it helps us to raise the bar and push kids a little harder."

Lockett said the CIM tests - which districts have been required to offer since the 2000-01 school year, though most have offered them longer - are very challenging.

"When they first started, I was teaching U.S. history at the time," he said. "One of the questions was 'Who was Madison's vice president.' I dropped my pencil and said, 'I don't have a clue!'"

At Astoria High School, most students complete the CIM requirements during their sophomore year, but they have until they graduate to pass the tests and get the work samples in.

Warrenton High School was the only area school to award fewer certificates than the state average.

Principal Jennifer Petitt said the district is making changes to try to increase students' skills and bring them up to testing standards.

For example, the high school is testing students before placing them in math classes, and the school is also taking teacher recommendations for students who need extra help in language arts.

"We know our scores aren't where we want them to be," she said. "But we're making changes and we think the changes we're making are good for the kids and are ultimately good for those scores."

One of the challenges of getting students to pass the CIM tests is that the material for the CIM is based on a 200-day school year.

"Our funding has been reduced to the point where we're down to 165 days of instruction," Lockett said. "If you add that to the test times ... days of instruction are 25 percent less than you need to cover the curriculum."

Last year, Oregon saw 27 percent of its graduates earn the CIM.

Officials with the Oregon Department of Education believe the relatively small increase is due to schools' pre-occupation with budget cuts, a shortened school year and larger class sizes.

"We're really asking school districts to do a lot, especially now with fewer resources" said Department of Education spokesman Gene Evans. "In some cases, the CIM was the straw that broke the camel's back. They just didn't have time."

Still, state colleges say they're still interested in using the CIM in their admissions processes. They are, however, more concerned with how students performed on each part of the CIM test, not whether they earned the actual certificate.

David McDonald, director of enrollment and student services for the Oregon University System said the colleges did an extensive study last year on the college performance of students based on their earlier performance on CIM benchmarks.

"It was very clear that students who scored higher on the statewide assessment, those students who did better on that clearly did better in college. Without question," McDonald said.

This year's CIM numbers also revealed that there is a significant achievement gap between the rich and the poor.

"We tend to use race for a shorthand," Evans said. "It's really about rich schools and poor schools."

Evans said that while three out of 10 white students earned the CIM, one out of every 10 black students earned the CIM. The statistic holds true for Hispanic students as well.

Locally, 40 percent of last year's Knappa graduates earned the CIM, and 100 percent of Jewell's 2003 class earned the certificate.

Lockett said that with a strong performance from last year's graduating class, the pressure is on.

"I hope we can maintain that track record and keep it going," he said.

• Just for the record, Madison endured two vice presidents. Both opposed him on several matters and both died in office! They were George Clinton (no relation) and Elbridge Gerry, whose name was given to "gerrymandering," a process by which a party in power changes the boundaries to voting districts to its advantage. Congratulations to all readers who knew.

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