High school seniors take last-chance exit test while judge prepares to strike it down

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Fifty James Logan High School seniors are scheduled to take the California High School Exit Exam today and tomorrow, while an Oakland judge is preparing to strike down the law requiring would-be high school graduates to pass the high-stakes test.

A student at James Logan High School takes a state-mandated test.
Image: Patrick Hannigan.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman said Monday that he will make his final decision today at 2 p.m. PDT on whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of the law requiring the exam’s passage, citing “equal protection” concerns.

The ruling would affect about 47,000 California high school seniors, and dozens at James Logan High School, who have yet to pass the exam and would be barred from being graduated if they don’t.

Last week, state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell released new statistics showing that 46.768 seniors, or 10.7 percent of the class of 2006, still haven’t passed the test.

Sixty-one percent of those students are poor, and 44 percent are English learners.

Of the 50 James Logan students taking the test today and tomorrow, 35 speak English as a second language. Eight are special education students. Of the five black students taking the test, four are special education students. Of the three white students taking the test, two are new to the district and the other is a special education student.

One, an Asian immigrant, has a 3.67 grade-point-average.

O’Donnell wrote the law requiring the test when he was in the state legislature in 1999.

In a statement to the press, O’Donnell said "Recognizing that today's ruling is not final, I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that at the end of the legal day we maintain the integrity of the high school exit exam," O'Connell said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said "delaying the exam's implementation does a disservice to our children by depriving us of the best tool we have to make sure schools are performing as they should be."

He said he was "disappointed."

The attorney who sued the state Feb. 8, Arturo Gonzalez of the San Francisco law firm Morrison & Foerster, "felt strongly that the state should not deprive a student of a diploma unless the state can say that every student has been fairly and properly prepared for that test," he said. "There is overwhelming evidence that students throughout the state have not been taught the material on the test. And many students have been taught by teachers not credentialed in math and English."

The suit, was brought on behalf of lead plaintiff Liliana Valenzuela, a Richmond High senior who maintains a 3.84 grade-point average and is ranked 12th out of 413 in her class. Valenzuela has passed the math portion of the exam, but not the part on English, which she speaks as a second language.

Gonzalez contends the test is unfair, particularly to English learners, because students who have failed the test repeatedly are more likely to attend overcrowded schools with less-qualified teachers.

Judge Freedman said he was persuaded by that argument, but wanted to give the state a chance to change his opinion.

He asked lawyers on both sides to come prepared to talk about how conditions in the schools can be equalized.

Gonzalez urged seniors who still need to pass the test to keep going to classes and studying. "It is absolutely critical for students to understand that even if the order is made final, only those students who passed their classes will get a diploma," he said.

This article is based on Seniors Take Last-Chance Exit Test While Judge Prepares to Strike it Down by Patrick Hannigan of The James Logan Courier, which has a copyright policy compatible with our CC-BY 2.5. Specifically "Creative Commons 2.5 Share-Alike license"