Judge delays exit exam decision until Friday

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A California judge has delayed until Friday his decision on whether to stop the state from requiring high school students to pass the California High School Exit Examination in order to graduate.

On Monday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman said he would issue an injunction against the high-stakes test, which was taken Tuesday by thousands of seniors in danger of not being graduated unless they pass, unless the state's attorneys came up with an otherwise convincing argument by 2 p.m.

Instead, Freedman said he would wait until Friday to issue his decision.

The San Francisco law firm Morrison & Foerster filed the lawsuit on behalf of Richmond High School senior Liliana Valenzuela and others. It contends that the test violates the “equal protection” concept of the law in that poor students and English-language learners don't have access to equal education.

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.

Thirty-two James Logan students were scheduled to take the second half of the two-day test Wednesday, along with thousands of others throughout the state.

Last week, state Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell said that about 47,000 California high school seniors still needed to pass the test or face the prospect of completing four years of schoolwork without receiving a diploma. O'Connell wrote the law requiring the test while serving in the state legislature.

The statistics O'Donnell cited also show that, while nearly 90 percent of seniors have passed the test, only 71 percent of seniors who are English learners have passed, and 83 percent of those classified as low-income have passed.

Of the 50 taking the first part of the test at Logan High on Tuesday, only 13 were native English speakers.

Cynthia O'Brien, who is coordinating the administration of the exit exam at James Logan, said she'd like some certainty about whether the test is going to be required or not.

“The politicals in STATE and our judicial system need to get together and do the right job by the students. If the Exit Exam is going to go forward, then it needs to go forward. If not, then it needs to be cancelled completely,” she said after a long day of testing Tuesday.

“It is not fair to the students to work their hearts out and agonize over something that has such a large impact on them and then find they didn't need to work so hard. I know there are probably students who have not taken the exam seriously, but the vast majority of Logan students have. They deserve better than to not know from one day to the next what they need to do to be granted a diploma. Most of our students who are taking the exam this go around have given up electives, lunches or time after school to prepare for the test,” she said.

"I am afraid that the message we are giving our students is that you don't need to care,” O'Brien continued, “Then, one day, the system will pull the rope tight, and students will be caught not having what they need. Yes, they should all be doing their best, but when the system cries WOLF too often, people tend to ignore the message.”

O'Donnell, in a statement released on Monday, said he would try to make sure the test counts.

"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, and that all graduates in the class of 2006 will enter college or the workforce with a diploma that reflects their mastery of critical academic skills,” he said.

“Independent research shows that because of the High School Exit Exam, students are working harder and learning more, and those who are struggling are getting the help they need to succeed,” he said.

California Governor 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. We must increase our efforts to help all students meet the minimal bar set by the exam, not lower our standards or expectations of them.”

"I am disappointed in the Court's tentative ruling to stop implementation of the California High School Exit Exam this year but I remain hopeful this will not be their final word,” he said.

If Freedman grants the injunction, the state's lawyers say they'll appeal.

Whatever happens with Valenzuela vs. California, the battle isn't over. Next week, Freedman is scheduled to hear arguments in another suit that seeks to block the test. Lawyers for Public Advocates claim the department failed to hold until December a public hearing to consider alternatives to the test, six years after the Legislature approved it.


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