California students continue struggle with Exit Exam in classrooms, courtroom

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Class of 2006 students who have so far failed to conquer the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) will continue the struggle today in classrooms across the state, and also in a San Francisco courtroom.

Some of the nearly one in ten members of the Class of 2006 who still haven't passed the CAHSEE weeks after their scheduled graduations, including dozens from James Logan High School's Class of 2006, will get another crack at it starting today at high schools around the state, when schools administer an additional last chance two-day test, added to the testing schedule in April in response to the number of seniors who still hadn't passed.

Meanwhile, California's First District Appellate Court of California this morning will begin hearing arguments in a lawsuit that aims to prohibit the state from requiring students to pass the test, and force it to give them the diplomas they currently lack.

According to testing statistics released by the California Department of Education, 1,759 California seniors passed the test when they took it in May, the last time the test was administered, bringing the total percentage of last year's seniors to pass the test to an estimated 90.8 percent, or 396,201 of 436,374 members of the Class of 2006.

However, that number does not include over 22,000 special education students who were not required to pass the test this year.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who wrote the law which required students to pass the test when he was a state legislator, expressed muted pleasure at the results, which indicate a narrowing of the "achievement gap" between racial groups. "While I will not be satisfied until all California students are successful in gaining the skills measured by the exit exam, I am pleased that the achievement gap is narrowing," O'Connell said. "It is clear that all students are working hard to gain the critical skills necessary for a diploma and for survival in today's global economy. I credit the exit exam for focusing both students and schools on meeting this challenge. We need to sustain this effort until the achievement gap is erased completely."

"Eighty-five percent of Hispanic students in the Class of 2006 have passed the test, with 19.7 percent passing during the junior year and nearly 11 percent passing in their senior year," according to a statement released by O'Connell. "By comparison, 11.5 percent of white students passed as juniors and 4.1 percent of white students passed as seniors. Eighty-three percent of African American students have passed the test, with 20.6 percent passing as juniors and 12 percent passing as seniors."

About 70 seniors at James Logan High School, mostly minorities and those who are learning English, had to take the May test.

O'Connell said that the estimated 40,173 students who haven't passed the test should not give up trying to get a high school diploma or more education: "I urge these students to continue to work in summer school, take a fifth year of high school, or study in adult school or community college to acquire those important skills in English and math," O'Connell said. "This exam benefits students who are still struggling by focusing them on areas they need to strengthen so they can have more successful futures."

The last chance to pass the 2006 test begins this morning, as seniors and adult school students begin taking the English/Language Arts portion of the CAHSEE. Tomorrow, the Mathematics portion of the test will be administered. The summer administration of the test starting today was added to the testing schedule in April, in response to requests from school districts around the state.

In the court case against the test, the California Court of Appeals will hear argument at 9:30 a.m. at 350 McAllister in San Francisco.

In court, Arturo Gonzalez, lead attorney in the case, Valenzuela vs. O'Connell, named for Liliana Valenzuela, a Richmond High School student, will try to convince the First Appellate Court of California to uphold a Superior Court judge's May ruling blocking the state's use of the test, on the grounds that it's use as a graduation requirement was unconstitutional because poor and minority students don't have access to equal educational resources, and therefore don't have equal protection under the law.

The judge, Robert Freedman of Alameda County, issued an injunction against the use of the test, briefly giving hope of graduation without passing to thousands of students statewide, but O'Connell appealed to the state Supreme Court and they stayed the judge's injunction, allowing the state to order schools to deny diplomas to those who hadn't passed the test. The Supreme Court also ordered the First District Appellate Court to hear the case, which the court scheduled for today.

"If the appellate court affirms the injunction, then any student who has passed all of his or her required courses will receive a high school diploma," Gonzalez said in an e-mail to the James Logan Courier

The two-day exam tests students on middle school level math and algebra and ninth and 10th grade-level English. Students take the test for the first time as sophomores, again as juniors if they didn’t pass it as 10th graders, and several times as seniors if needed.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.