Lake Tahoe Unified School District scored at or just below the California average on the California High School Exit Exam, but district administrators won't be satisfied with numbers shy of perfect.
"I'll be happy when it's 100 percent," South Tahoe High School Principal Ivone Larson said.
For Larson, the exam is an important way to gauge student performance and help students who might be underachieving get on the right track. Students take the test for the first time in 10th grade, giving teachers an opportunity to analyze results and make changes.
"To me, CAHSEE is really telling us where we're at, more than any other test, because the students take it pretty seriously," Larson said.
If a student doesn't pass the final CAHSEE test, he or she will receive a certificate of completion upon graduation, not a diploma. Students can take the test up to five times during their senior year, and Larson said generally about 15 percent of the student body ends up taking the test multiple times.
This year, 82 percent of LTUSD 10th-grade students passed the math test while 83 percent passed the English-language arts exam, according to California Department of Education data.
Results statewide are a hair higher. Eighty-four percent of California students passed the math test and 83 percent passed the ELA. It's the first time in four years that math and ELA passing rates at the South Tahoe High School have decreased.
Broken down into subgroups for STHS, statistics show a slight decline in white students' performance in both math and ELA tests between 2011 and 2012, even though white students still have the highest passing rates at the school. Though Hispanic student body passing rates in math declined over the year, they rose by 6 percent in ELA.
"Any sign of improvement is positive, particularly in this economic climate when resources are so tight. As a department, we have focused on particular subgroups hoping to see some improvement in their scores," STHS English Department Chair Bridey Heidel wrote in an email.
For Dave Mason and Kristi Leonard, co-chairs of the math department at STHS, the CAHSEE numbers don't really reach their classrooms. By the time the results are published, students are already beyond the math level at which they were tested. And since the test population is so small in Tahoe - only 295 students took the test district-wide and that number is shrinking every year - there's variability in the numbers.
"It's one of the measures, one of the indicators, of proficiency. Looking at the subgroups is useful to make sure we're serving our students," Leonard said.
Both Leonard and Mason emphasized that the numbers don't tell the whole story, and CAHSEE is only one way to gauge student performance. Other tests, such as the Standardized Testing and Reporting results that are course-specific, can provide more detailed information.