The percentage of white Alexandria 10th graders who passed the state's basic skills test this year appeared to have dropped, according to figures released last week, but the decrease resulted from misclassifying 25 foreign students not fluent in English, an Alexandria school official said yesterday.

James P. Akin, executive assistant for research, planning and evaluation for the school system, analyzed the scores, which showed a 4 percentage point drop this year in the number of white Alexandria students who passed the test. Akin said he found that the decline was solely attributable to 25 foreign students whose scores were incorrectly included in the "white" category. Because the students -- from Afghanistan, El Salvador, the Middle East and Africa -- are not fluent in English, their scores should have been included in the "other" category, he said.

The percentage of white English-speaking students who passed the test actually increased by 3 percentage points over last year, to 99.2 percent, Akin said. The percentage of black students who passed fell from 93.8 percent last year to 88.9 percent this year, which represents nine additional black students who did not pass, he added.

Akin said the pass rate for the 132 foreign students in Alexandria who took the test this year was 63.6 percent.

The tests, which students must pass to graduate from high school, measure basic reading and math skill. This year's scores were released Friday by the State Board of Education.

In Alexandria and elsewhere in the metropolitan area, schools are enrolling a growing number of students from war-torn and impoverished countries such as El Salvador and Cambodia. Many of those come with little or no education.

Akin said that in the future, school employes will be asked to verify the classification of every student taking the test. He said foreign students often reject the ethnic groups in which they have been classified by American educators; for example, he said Afghan students are told to list themselves as Asians, while many of them insist on being listed as white.

Alexandria's overall failure rate on the minimum competency tests -- 12.6 percent -- was the third highest in the state, behind two rural counties, Greensville and King and Queen.