TALLAHASSEE - High school graduation tests in Florida and five other states are not "overly demanding" and measure only a small part of the skills considered essential by colleges and employers, concluded a report released Wednesday.
For instance, the math portion of the tests includes material generally taught, internationally, in the eighth grade. And questions that were designed to measure basic comprehension made up half of the reading portion of the tests.
Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes higher academic standards, looked at the high school graduation tests of Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.
Nearly half the states across the country have high school graduation exams. The six states that volunteered for the study enroll nearly a quarter of the nation's high school students.
In Florida, students must pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to graduate. They have several opportunities to take the test, which is first given in the 10th grade.
Last year, about 12,000 seniors failed the FCAT. About 400 had achieved every other academic requirement except passing the FCAT.
The Achieve report concluded that the exams in the six states cover "material that most students study early in their high school careers" and that the passing scores established by the states reflect "modest expectations."
The tests in the six states measure "only a fraction" of the knowledge and skills that colleges and employers say is essential, according to Matthew Gandal, who directed the study.
The report judged the math questions on the tests against the results of international research into math and science education in 41 countries.
"The content measured on the tests is taught, on average, at the 8th grade level internationally," the report noted. "In other words, the material on the exams states are using (as) a requirement for high school graduation is considered middle school content in most other countries."
On the reading portion of the tests, researchers compared the material covered to levels established by ACT, which is widely known for its college-entrance exams but also has a standardized test written for students in eighth and ninth grades and another for 10th-graders.
Most of the items on the graduation tests corresponded with material on the ACT tests for students in eighth and ninth grade, the study reported.
The researchers said New Jersey had the most rigorous reading test, followed by Texas and Massachusetts.
MacKay Jimeson, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, said the report shows that the FCAT "measures reasonable expectations for high school graduates."
He said the state had raised standards in the past and would continue to do so.