Last year only 87 Virginia seniors failed the state high school graduation competency test. Another 62,140 passed the exam.

Those figures have given some state education officials new fuel for their argument that the test isn't tough enough. At the Oct. 22 meeting of the State Board of Education, those officials are expected to ask that a higher passing score be required for the test.

The current passing score of 70 percent was set last year, despite strong opposition from some board members who said they felt the figure was too low.

"Now, with the high percentage that have passed the tests," said Richard L. Boyer, assistant superintendent for planning and evaluation for the state Education Department, "that gives them more of an argument."

Boyer said the Education Department will submit a revised scoring scale to the board at its Oct. 22 meeting. He said the department has not yet decided what cutoff score it will recommend. He added that the board isn't expected to make a final decision on the new policies until December.

An increase of five points in the passing score could mean that an additional 5 to 10 percent of the students would fail the test on their first try, Boyer said.

The Education Department also may suggest reducing the number of times a student can take the test, Boyer said. Students now are given five chances to pass -- first in the 10th grade, then the 11th grade, and three times their senior year.

Although less than 1 percent of the students in the state failed to pass the test after the fifth attempt last year, 18 percent flunked after their first attempt, according to Boyer.

Board member Thomas R. Watkins of Hampton said, "I register my continuing concern over allowing any student to take the test more than once."

The competency tests ordered by the General Assembly are not intended to cause large-scale failures, according to Boyer. He said the tests are supposed to show that a student has attained minimum skills in certain areas before he or she receives a high school diploma.