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California High School Exit Exam

In 1999, the special session of the Legislature that approved Governor Daviss accountability program also passed legislation requiring all high-school students to pass a high-school exit exam before they could receive their diploma. Aligned to the states academic content standards, the exit exam would, at least initially, only cover English/language arts and mathematics. Students would have to pass both sections of the test, although not necessarily at the same time, in order to graduate. The newly developed test was to be administered in March 2001, with the class of 2004 slated to be the first students required to pass the exam.

When the exam was being developed, it was initially envisioned that students would have to answer 70 percent of the questions correctly in order to pass. However, because early indications showed large failure rates with the 70 percent standard, the bar was lowered to the current requirement that students answer 60 percent of the English/language arts questions and 55 percent of the math questions correctly. Both sections of the test contain multiple-choice questions. The English section also contains two essay questions.

Students are allowed to take the exam multiple times during the school year. For instance, a 10th-grader who failed to pass the exam in 2002 still had seven additional chances to retake and pass the test. In 2001, freshmen high schoolers were allowed to take the test, but from 2002 onward only students at the sophomore level and above could take the test. Since students can now start taking the exam in the 10th grade, the difficulty of the exam is geared to up to a 10th grade level.

In spring 2002, of the 182,515 10th-graders that took the English/language arts section of the exam, 54 percent passed, while of the 248,328 10th-graders that took the math section, 32 percent passed. The lower math passage rate is likely attributable to the fact that algebra is included on the math test and many 10th-grade students taking the exam had not yet taken an algebra course. As these students continue in high-school and take algebra courses, the math passage rate should increase. Also, the reason for the differences among the number of students taking each section is due to the fact that some students had previously passed only one section of the test.

The passage rate among various student subgroups was even worse. In 2002, only 20 percent of African-American test-takers passed the math section, while 46 percent passed the English section. Among Hispanics, 22 percent passed the math section, while 42 percent passed the English section. And although 74 percent of whites passed the English section, less than half, 49 percent, passed the math section.

Combining the overall 2001 and 2002 results, only approximately 48 percent of students scheduled to graduate in 2004 passed both parts of the exam, with 64 percent passing the English/language arts section and 52 percent passing the math section. Such statistics caused some state education officials to voice misgivings about the possibility of withholding high-school diplomas from a potentially large number of students.

In June 2003, Jack O'Connell, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced that he would not administer the July testing session of the exit exam. He also said that he would recommend that the effects of the exam be postponed until 2006. In July, the State Board of Education followed O'Connell's lead and voted to have the exit exam be a requirement for graduation for the class of 2006 rather than the class of 2004.

In March 2005, bills were introduced in the California Senate to further delay/eliminate the California High School Exit Exam.

In April. 2009 Stanford issued an executive summary about the impact of the CAHSEE on graduation rates.

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Last modified: July 11, 2003

Disclaimer: This website is the sole responsibility of Mike McMahon. It does not represent any official opinions, statement of facts or positions of the Alameda Unified School District. Its sole purpose is to disseminate information to interested individuals in the Alameda community.