Mike McMahon AUSD
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In 1999, the Legislature responding to pressures of accountability in education, passed legislation establishing a requirement that high school seniors pass an exit exam in order to receive a high school diploma. Initially, the requirements was to apply to graduating class of 2004. The initial date was extended the date to 2006. Starting in March, 2005, the Legislature began to question even the 2006 date. A school district filed a suit on behalf on English Language Learners while another suit was filed on behalf of special education students. In December, 2005 the California Department of Education issued recommendations regarding the CAHSEE. In January, 2006 the State Superintendent affirmed his support for the CAHSEE after holding a review meeting in December, 2005. In February, 2006 general education students filed a lawsuit over the CAHSEE. The State Board of Education reviewed the alternatives to CAHSEE and rejected those alternatives, which led to filing of a second lawsuit. An appeal of the second suit lost in September, 2006. Sacramento Bee columnist presented his opinion on CAHSEE.

In April, 2006, one school board member attempted to get his Board to award diplomas without passing the CHASEE but was voted down 4 to 1. Then again if you are a school district under state control and the Board has no power defying state law is easy.

On May 12, 2006, an Alameda County Superior Court judge suspended the state's high school exit exam. The Department of Education appealed the ruling. On May 17, 2006 the same Alameda County Superior Court judge rejected a second suit challenge the exit exam based on state law. Sacramento Bee columnist Peter Schrag reviews the implications of judge's ruling suspending the exit exam.

On May 24, 2006, the California reinstated the state's high school exit exam. The State Supreintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement On May 27, 2006, the Court of Appeals set a July hearing date .

In August, 2006 as the first CAHSEE results for the class of 2007 were released, New America Media released a study showing significant support for CAHSEE requirements among minorities.

In September, 2006, the Governor signed a bill adding another year of exemptions for sudents with learning disabilites. In July, 2007, a lawsuit providing extra tutoring for inidivudals unable to pass the CAHSEE was settled.

Meanwhile, even 8th graders are coming under pressure to pass tests in order to participate in promotion ceremonies.

California High School Exit Exam Chronology

School exit exam put to test

Bills aim to end or alter '06 graduation requirement

Jim Sanders, Sacramento Bee, March 3, 2005

With the moment of truth fast approaching for California students, a high-powered drive has begun in the Legislature to delay or eliminate tying high school graduation to passing a controversial exit examination. Beginning with the class of 2006, state law requires high schools to deny diplomas to any student who doesn't pass a mathematics and English test, a consequence that was delayed two years ago to give schools more time to prepare.

Two new bills, proposed by Democrats, take separate approaches to the issue. But both question the fairness of the high school exit examination and neither would allow imposition of high-stakes consequences next year. Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, are among legislators who support intervention on behalf of 12th-graders who fail the test next year.

Perata and Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, argue that some campuses have been shortchanging children for years, providing inadequate instruction or textbooks. To deny diplomas to students at deficient schools would essentially victimize them twice, they contend.

"A test is a very cheap way to get by," said Perata, D-Oakland. "We don't invest enough money in our educational system. We don't provide enough resources. We've only recently begun to align curriculum with the test. And all of a sudden the test becomes sacred?"

Perata predicted the Senate would pass an intervention measure.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the high-stakes exam, which requires graduates to know math at about the seventh-grade level and English-language arts at roughly the 10th-grade level.

Richard Riordan, Schwarzenegger's secretary for education, declined to comment specifically on the pending legislation but said it's "high time" to hold schools accountable for failure.

"The kids ought to know (when) they don't have the tools to compete adequately in life. Their parents ought to know. And they ought to be ... mad about it," he said.

Public hearings have not yet been held on the two pending bills - SB 517 by Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles; and AB 1531 by Democratic Assemblywoman Karen Bass, also of Los Angeles. Both proposals are loosely worded, expressing intent but anticipating substantial amendments.

Romero's bill would postpone imposition of the requirement that no diploma be given to a student who fails to pass the exit exam. The delay would last until the state provides "adequate resources" for public schools and the exit exam is deemed by independent experts to meet "ethical standards."

SB 517 would require the state to receive and consider recommendations by the Quality Education Commission, created by the Legislature in 2002 to determine the cost of adequately educating students. The commission has never met because Schwarzenegger has appointed no members.

Bass' proposal, AB 1531, is meant to eliminate the test's high-stakes consequences, not merely delay them. She wants diplomas to be based on "multiple measures," not a single test score.

AB 1531 does not specify additional graduation criteria but asks the state Board of Education to make recommendations by next February.

Bass said some students who fail the exit exam may simply suffer from test anxiety. An all-or-nothing exam disregards other measures of student achievement, such as passing courses or completing research projects, she said.v

"With the high school exit exam, you go through 12 years of classes and everything rests on that one thing," Bass said.

When all members of the class of 2006 took the test early last year, three of every four students passed the English portion and a similar percentage passed the math section.

The numbers were lower, however, for English learners and for African American and Latino students.

State schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell, a Democrat and former senator who proposed the exit exam in 1999, does not favor lowering the stakes, except perhaps for students with disabilities.

"I think we've given students ample notification, ample opportunity to learn," he said. "We've postponed it once already. I think to do so again would send the wrong signal to schools."

Supporters of the exit exam note that students begin taking the test in the 10th grade, so they have plenty of time to remedy their weaknesses and get a passing score before graduation.

But Goldberg said the state's recent settlement of the highly publicized Williams lawsuit is a concession that California has shortchanged students in many low-income communities.

The Williams suit claimed that schools for many of the state's most disadvantaged students were run-down or poorly equipped. The state agreed to pay nearly $1 billion to fix the problems.

"Whose fault is it that a kid can't pass an exit exam?" Goldberg said of the exit exam. "I want to hold the adults accountable first."

Romero said the test's high stakes could have serious unintended consequences, creating a permanent underclass of students - largely minority or disadvantaged - who have no diploma and little hope for the future.

Maria Lopez, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento City Unified School District, said the district has not seen the bills but is wary of changing the exit exam.

"We've asked kids to invest their attention in the test, and teachers to invest their time preparing for it," Lopez said. "To say, 'We're sorry, we don't really mean it this time,' is not a good message to send."

California education groups are split on whether to intervene in the exit examination dispute.

The California Teachers Association declined comment pending analyses of SB 517 and AB 1531.

Brian Lewis, executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials, said the exit exam is an example of escalating pressures. Schools face higher expectations, inadequate funding and threats of punishment for low scores, he said.

"You ask yourself whether this is the year when it's all going to come to a head," he said.

Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, said his group is concerned about the number of students who might fail the exit exam next year but that "another delay would be deadly" for schools.

"We think the more appropriate thing is to leave the high stakes in place, but probably come up with an alternative certificate - a certificate of completion or something" that would give credit to students who pass their classes but fail the test, he said.

Status of Alameda students regarding the passing the Exit Exam.

Here is the history of the California High School Exit Exam.


Local schools to sue state

District says tests that measure achievement are unfair to English language learners

Christine Mahr, The Desert Sun March 4, 2005


The Coachella Valley Unified School District:

The state of California is violating the Federal No Child Left Behind Act by requiring that children who are English language learners take standardized tests before they are proficient in English.

The federal government

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must provide "reasonable accommodations" such as native-language versions of tests when testing students to determine academic progress. In the areas of reading and language arts, students who've been in U.S. schools for three years will be tested in English.

The State of California

All students in grades two through 11 in California public schools must participate in the state's standardized testing program unless they have significant cognitive disabilities. The tests are administered in English.
Percentage Latino: 97.3
Percentage English language learners: 82
Percentage of district's schools in program improvement: 44
Schools in program improvement: Bobby Duke Elementary, John Kelley Elementary, Oasis Elementary, Palm View Elementary, Sea View Elementary, Valley View Elementary, Coachella Valley High School

Saying California's testing system is unfair to the district's English language learners, the Coachella Valley Unified School District is suing the state.

The district's seven-member board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday to retain three law firms to prepare what is believed to be the first suit challenging the English-only testing of children who speak little or no English.

School officials said about 82 percent of the district's 15,000 students fall into that category.

"Every time we test a child in a language that's not their native language, we give them a grade that doesn't belong to them," said board President Anna Rodriguez, adding, "We're saying they don't know anything when they may be brilliant children."

The district earlier considered also suing the federal government because of issues related to the federal No Child Left Behind Act - President Bush's education overhaul.

That hasn't been ruled out entirely, Superintendent Foch "Tut" Pensis said. "But No Child Left Behind has started to implode itself, so we're letting it run its course to see what happens," he said.

Pensis was referring to various lawsuits filed over the law and a scathing bipartisan statement last week from all 50 state legislatures calling for fundamental changes in it.

"Right now, our most immediate concern is California," Pensis said.

"Accountability is fine, but you do it in the right manner," he said. The district serves Coachella, Indio, Thermal, Mecca, Oasis and the Salton Sea. The children who are the Coachella Valley's future leaders, the district argues, are being wrongly called failures.

The district has been labeled a failing district because too few of its schools and students measured up to progress goals required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

But the district contends its students can't be successful because they must take required proficiency tests in English before they've learned the language.

That violates the No Child Left Behind Act, which specifies how testing of students with limited English proficiency should be handled, said Marc Coleman of Long Beach, one of the attorneys representing the district. The federal law requires that states provide English language learners "reasonable accommodations" such as native-language versions of tests, and allows students to be in U.S. schools for three years before being tested in English in the areas of reading and language arts. "California has decided only to test them in English, and they don't have a prayer of succeeding," Coleman said.

District schools have have improved their standardized test scores but not enough to meet federal goals.

Continued lack of adequate progress by schools and students leads to sanctions required by No Child Left Behind.

The district already is on a Program Improvement or "failing school district" list, meaning it has to take certain steps such as creating an improvement plan and using some of its federal funding - money to help educate low-income students - to train teachers.

And, if negotiations between the U.S. Department of Education and the state of California aren't resolved in the favor of California, Desert Sands Unified School District and Palm Springs Unified School District would be among more than 300 schools added to the list.


Report backs disabled students

Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2005

California should back off its controversial decision to deny diplomas to students with disabilities who fail the high school exit exam, researchers say in a draft report to state lawmakers.

Passing the state's exit exam is set to become a graduation requirement for all public school students next year, beginning with the graduating class of 2006. That class will include nearly 44,000 students with disabilities, which range from blindness to dyslexia to emotional problems.

Only 30 percent of students with disabilities who take the exit exam pass it on the first try, compared with 74 percent of nondisabled students, according to the report from West Ed, a nonprofit education research agency headquartered in San Francisco.

State lawmakers hired West Ed last year to advise the Legislature on whether the law that includes students with disabilities in its rigorous new graduation program was fair, or whether an alternative approach should be adopted.

The 158-page report says that in California, vast numbers of students enrolled in "special education" classes often are not adequately taught the subject matter covered on the test.


Constitution exam stands as grad rule

Modesto eighth-graders can't join ceremonies, Stanislaus judge rules

By Elizabeth Johnson, Modesto Bee, June 10,2005

Modesto City Schools' U.S. Constitution test requirement survived a challenge Wednesday, with Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge David Vander Wall refusing to temporarily suspend the rule. Thirty-five eighth-graders are not getting diplomas or certificates of completion, nor are they being allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies, because the students failed a 40-question test on the Constitution.

Graduations are set for Friday at Hanshaw Middle School and La Loma, Mark Twain and Roosevelt junior highs. The students denied the right to participate are allowed to move to ninth grade, even without diplomas.

Oakland-based Protection & Advocacy Inc. took Modesto City Schools to court, demanding that the students be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies and receive certificates of completion, despite not meeting the Constitution requirement.

In particular, the disability law firm waged its fight on behalf of eight special education students and others with limited English skills who did not pass the exam — arguing that the requirement discriminates against those two groups and is unfair because some special education students with more severe disabilities receive certificates of merit without passing the exam.

Protection & Advocacy asked Vander Wall for an order to block the test rule pending a trial.

Attorney Stephen Rosenbaum emphasized that he was not challenging the district's right to establish graduation requirements.

But the judge said he did not see any irreparable damage if students do not participate in the ceremonies or receive certificates of completion. Vander Wall said Protection & Advocacy was not likely to win the case, and therefore he would not grant a temporary restraining order.

"If most (special education students) didn't pass, there would be an argument," Vander Wall said.

Superintendent Jim Enochs and the district's two lawyers were pleased with the judge's ruling.

"They are allowed to set the bar and help them get to the bar, but you don't have to lower the bar," said Trevor Skarda, with the Sacramento-based Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard law firm.

Gary McBride, a Modesto City Schools teacher and a plaintiff in the case, said he was disappointed with the outcome.

He said his family will throw a big party to celebrate his two daughters' move from junior high to high school. Both have learning disabilities and did not pass the Constitution test.

"We feel the district is trying to put all children in one square peg, but it doesn't work that way," McBride said. "It's never been about the Constitution test itself. It's about making safety nets for children with learning disabilities."

Rosenbaum, who worked with Jack Daniel, an attorney with Fresno-based California Rural Legal Assistance, said attorneys will consult with their clients before deciding on their next move.

"On the surface, it looks like we want special treatment, but it's to level the playing field and bring them together," Rosenbaum said. "But you can't bring them together if you have special needs either linguistically or cognitively."



By California Department of Education, Executive Summary, CAHSEE Review Year 6, September 30,2005

Policy makers face critical decisions about the CAHSEE as the Class of 2006 nears graduation. As in past years, we offer several general recommendations based on observations and findings from our evaluation activities. These recommendations are targeted to the Board and the Legislature as they consider additions or modifications to policies concerning the CAHSEE and its use. We also offer several more technical recommendations for the continued improvement of the CAHSEE, which are targeted to CDE and to the test developer.

Key Policy Recommendations

General Recommendation 1: Keep the CAHSEE requirement in place for the Class of 2006 and beyond.

Approximately 68,000 students who were not able to demonstrate mastery of essential skills in the 10th grade have been able to do so by the end of 11th grade. While we cannot offer solid evidence, it seems likely that many would not have done so without being identified through their scores as needing additional help and being motivated by the CAHSEE graduation requirement to take advantage of the assistance that was available to them. It is also evident that the requirement motivated schools to expand programs to help students master the required skills both before and after initial CAHSEE testing.

It would be a disservice to students, parents, and educators to send a message that some or all of the students in the Class of 2006 do not have to master language arts and mathematics skills deemed to be critical for success after high school.

General Recommendation 2: Identify specific options for students who are not able to satisfy the CAHSEE requirement and implement them by June 2006.

Nearly 100,000 students in the Class of 2006 did not satisfy the CAHSEE requirement by the end of the 11th grade. With continued effort and help many of these students will be able to satisfy the requirement in time to graduate with their class. However, many of these students, perhaps half, will not. To date, nearly half of English learners and nearly two thirds of students with disabilities have not met the CAHSEE requirement. Score gains from 10th to 11th grade were smaller for these students than for other students. If current trends prevail, a significant number of students including a substantial proportion of English learners and students with disabilities will not have passed the CAHSEE by the end of 12th grade. Many of these students will be denied a diploma for failing to meet other requirements as well.

Our second recommendation is that schools, districts, and the state provide options for students who want to earn a high school diploma but still do not pass the CAHSEE by the end of the 12th grade. We would urge consideration of multiple options to recognize the varying needs of students with different likelihoods of mastering the CAHSEE skills. Some of these may be interim steps while others may be required long term.

We differ strongly from the general conclusion of the SB 964 report (Rabinowitz et al., 2005) that the CAHSEE requirement should be deferred until alternative ways of demonstrating mastery of the standards and alternative diploma options for students unable to demonstrate mastery can be implemented with rigor. We believe it is better to keep the requirement in place and implement options now, improving technical rigor over time. The state should avoid sending the message that students should not continue to strive to master the essential skills, but rather provide options now for students who do not do so.

Some general principles in considering options are:

  1. Insofar as possible, options should be available to all students who need them.
  2. Options should not excuse students and schools from continued effort to develop and demonstrate the skills assessed by the CAHSEE.
  3. Every effort possible should be made to help students master the targeted skills; alternative diploma options should be reserved for students who clearly cannot access the general education curriculum.
  4. Alternative routes should be announced publicly.

Examples of options that could still be implemented for the Class of 2006 are:

  • Community College Program. Update community college programs that lead to a high school diploma to focus on the CAHSEE skills. Allow students who need it up to two more years to master the CAHSEE skills and receive a diploma through participation in these programs. One advantage of this approach is that it would provide students with instruction in a different setting, not just repeating instruction that did not work before.
  • Senior-Year Portfolio. Allow districts to develop and implement a senior-year portfolio project for students they believe have mastered the required skills but are unable to demonstrate this mastery on the CAHSEE during the 10th and 11th grade. Additional alternate forms of assessment might also be implemented this year if they can be imported from existing efforts.
  • Summer Course(s) After 12th Grade. Allow (and encourage) districts to develop a summer program for students who have not been able to pass the CAHSEE and grant diplomas to students who successfully complete this program. Separate ELA and math courses could be offered, with students required to take or pass courses only if they had not yet passed the corresponding test on the CAHSEE.
  • Additional Years of High School. By statute, students in special education programs can continue their high school education until the age of 22. This option might be expanded to allow other students to take an additional year or two of high school as well. This would be most reasonable if the opportunities provided go beyond the remedial programs to which the students already had access.
  • Establish an Alternate Diploma or Graduation Certificate. Many districts already offer certificates of completion or other ways of recognizing accomplishment short of meeting the full set of graduation requirements. California might establish a statewide program for recognizing the accomplishment of students who do not meet all diploma requirements but are able to demonstrate mastery of an alternate set of goals. For students in special education programs, this option might involve different mastery goals for each student. This alternative, however, would not have to be limited just to special education students. In the interim, an alternate diploma or certificate might be based on passing one part of the CAHSEE or scoring above a lower set of performance standards. Eventually, however, assessment of mastery should be targeted more directly to alternate content standards set for students unable to master the full content covered by the CAHSEE.

General Recommendation 3: Accelerate efforts to implement a statewide system of student identifiers and develop and maintain a database with information on students who have and have not satisfied the CAHSEE requirements.

It is unfortunate that policy makers have to wait for this report to get any estimate of how many students in the Class of 2006 have and have not satisfied the CAHSEE requirement. And even so, the estimates we provide are approximate and will be subject to some debate. More exact information on the numbers of students yet to meet the CAHSEE requirement for each high school class is needed to design programs to help these students and to estimate funding requirements for these programs.

General Recommendation 4: Collect data from districts on students who are not able to satisfy the CAHSEE requirement by June 2006 and use this information to further refine options for students having difficulty mastering the skills assessed by the CAHSEE.

An important policy question for evaluating the impact of the CAHSEE is how many students will be denied a diploma due to the CAHSEE requirement alone. Currently there is no statewide database with information on satisfaction of other graduation requirements, some of which may be district specific. While there is some uncertainty about who has met the CAHSEE requirement, there is also uncertainty as to how many students have met the algebra course or any other specific graduation requirement. Most schools review graduation requirements with students early in their senior year. With this information, they should be able to respond accurately to a statewide survey fielded in the later half of the school year. Alternatively, CDE might wait until after June to see how many students who were seeking a diploma were actually denied the diploma and why.


Experts to suggest exit exam options

By Laurel Rosenhall, Sacramento Bee, December 15, 2005

Just six months before the consequences are set to kick in for tens of thousands of students, state education officials have opened the door for a showdown today over the California High School Exit Exam. Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, has invited experts to a 10 a.m. meeting to suggest alternatives for students failing the test. That simple request has sparked a controversy that now pits both O'Connell's supporters and his critics against him - for different reasons.

Test supporters are worried O'Connell is moving to water down the requirement that all students in the class of 2006 pass the two-part test in order to earn a diploma. Exam critics are happy to propose alternatives - but they say today's meeting is too little, too late. Meanwhile, a lawyer for a powerful San Francisco law firm is threatening to sue the state if changes aren't made in time for graduation in June.

Advocates for alternatives to the exam - including some civil rights groups and scholars from Stanford, UCLA and the University of California, Davis - say they will tell state officials today that students should receive diplomas even if they haven't passed the exit exam.

They believe that if students can show they've learned the material in some other way - through a portfolio of work, for example, or on a different test - they should be allowed to graduate.

"We absolutely need to hold everyone to the same standard and that's entirely consistent with what we propose, which is just to have more than one way to measure that standard," said John Affeldt, a lawyer with Public Advocates, a legal group that sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have allowed students to graduate by completing alternatives to the exam.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill in October.

But exam supporters say the test's greatest strength is its uniformity - all students at all schools are required to learn the same material. They contend that anything less would create different standards in different communities.

"We know that the quality and rigor of assignments given to poor kids and kids of color is weak compared to what's given to their more advantaged peers," said Russlynn Ali, an exam supporter and director of Education Trust West, an Oakland-based nonprofit group that advocates for students of color.

Most states that use exit exams allow students to take an alternative if they can't pass the regular test. Among the suggestions today's speakers have asked California to consider:

  • The Pennsylvania model, which allows students to submit a senior project showing they have learned the standards on the test and taken classes aligned with those standards.
  • The New Jersey model, which allows students to take tests in smaller portions over a longer period of time, so the tests are taken closer to the time they learn the material.
  • The Vermont model, which allows students to submit a portfolio of their best work in several subjects.
  • The New York model, which allows students who are new to the country to take tests in their native language.
  • A certificate of completion, which would show that students have passed their course work but would not be the same as a diploma.

"Students often have difficulty in one particular assessment context but are able to demonstrate those skills in other ways," said John Rogers, a UCLA education professor. "I don't think it is letting them off the hook."

But Jim Lanich, president of California Business for Education Excellence, said the alternatives are too subjective and don't prepare students for life beyond high school.

"Are they going to get a driver's license? Are they going to enter college? Are they going to take an employment exam?" he said. "That's the way the world works. I don't understand why that's negotiated in (education) and not anywhere else in the world."

O'Connell - who created the exit exam as a legislator in the 1990s and surprised many when he announced in September that he would consider alternatives for failing students - will not be at today's meeting. He is scheduled to be in Los Angeles promoting preschool.

Some see his absence as a bad sign.

"I'm concerned that the hearing is a sham," said Arturo Gonzalez, a lawyer with Morrison & Foerster, a law firm in San Francisco.

He said the entire class of 2006 should be freed from the exam requirement because the discussion of alternatives is taking place too late for the government to make any changes.

"We're going to give the state Board of Ed the time to do the right thing - which is to allow the class of 2006 to graduate, until they study alternatives. If they don't, we will meet in court and we will spare no expense to help these kids," Gonzalez said.

The legislation that created the exit exam calls for a study of other ways students can demonstrate their knowledge and graduate.

O'Connell's spokeswoman said the superintendent waited until this year to consider alternatives because students and teachers wouldn't have taken the test seriously if other options existed.

"It is appropriate to look at fine-tuning as you get closer to the consequences," Hilary McLean said. "The fact that the high school exit exam has existed for these high school students all along has led to improvement in the delivery of their education."

But making large changes to exam policy so close to the consequences can cause confusion among students and teachers, said Patty Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C., group that studies exit exams in the 25 states that have or are developing them.

"It's very unusual to try to change course after the kids have taken the test," she said. "They went into the exit exam thinking these are the rules, and now the rules may change."


Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Holds Firm On High School Exit Exam; Recommends Options For Struggling Students

Test Ensures Students Have Skills to Compete In Global Economy of the 21st Century

CDE Website, January 6, 2006

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today announced that he will work to expand options for students who have not successfully passed the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) by the end of their senior year in order to encourage them to continue their education in order to gain the necessary skills needed to pass the exam. O’Connell also announced that he will not recommend or support any alternative assessments to the current exit exam.

"After reviewing research and considering options for non-special education students, I have concluded that there is no practical alternative available that would ensure that all students awarded a high school diploma have mastered the subject areas tested by the exam and needed to compete in today’s global economy," O’Connell said. "I am convinced that the only way to make sure all of our graduates have the critical skills they need in adulthood is through requiring passage of the high school exit exam."

It should be noted that with respect to students with disabilities, the California Department of Education (CDE) had agreed to a settlement in the case of Chapman, et al v. the California Department of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Board of Education. The lawsuit sought to delay the consequences of the CAHSEE for students with disabilities.

"I agreed to this settlement because we know that our standards-based education reforms take time to implement, particularly for students with disabilities," said O’Connell. "This settlement would provide a path for certain students with disabilities in the class of 2006 to receive a diploma, while giving our schools more time to provide them with the skills necessary to pass the CAHSEE. I will continue to fight to make this settlement law and firmly believe it will it be in place for the class of 2006."

O’Connell wrote the law creating the High School Exit Exam in 1999 to address the problem of schools across the state having widely disparate standards for what students were learning and what constituted graduation requirements. The High School Exit Exam is now one of the cornerstones of California’s education accountability system. The consequences of not passing the exam take effect for the first time with the graduating class of 2006.

"I wanted to ensure that no child could fall between the cracks and be sent into the world, diploma in hand, lacking the skills and knowledge necessary for meaningful work or college," O’Connell said. "I believed that the Exit Exam would challenge the system and raise expectations and results for California students. Our schools are now focused on teaching California’s world-class academic standards, and students are meeting higher expectations as a result of the exam."

Since its inception, the CAHSEE has been thoroughly reviewed and updated. The exam has been studied annually by an independent evaluator, the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO). HumRRO has confirmed that the test is a valid and reliable indicator of student knowledge in mathematics and English-language arts and that the test brings needed consistency across the nearly 1,000 districts in California. In it’s most recent report, released last fall, HumRRO recommended to keep the CAHSEE requirement in place for the class of 2006 and beyond. HumRRO also recommended the consideration of alternatives and/or options for those students who may be unable to pass the CAHSEE by June 2006.

"To be clear, this does not mean, as some have said, that those students who have been unable to pass the exam will be denied a diploma indefinitely," said O’Connell. "It simply means that their basic education is not complete and they must continue on through our K-12 system, adult education, or community colleges to obtain the necessary skills to warrant receipt of a diploma."

At O’Connell’s direction, CDE staff examined exit exam models throughout the country and considered all possible alternatives and options.

We face a new economy driven by global innovation that will demand higher-level skills and knowledge to meaningfully enter the work force," O’Connell said. "It is imperative that all of California’s children reach at least the minimal bar set by our exit exam. Our education system must ensure that every student who has satisfied local graduation requirements, but has been unable to pass the exit exam, be given the opportunity to continue their education in order to obtain the necessary skills they will need to succeed. I am committed to breaking down any possible barriers in order to guarantee that every child who wants to continue his or her education will find a place to do so in California’s education system."

O’Connell announced that he will work with the Legislature to lift enrollment caps and increase funding for adult education programs, summer school, and independent study programs. He called for eligibility for Cal Grants to students who meet all other high school graduation and grade point average requirements, but have not passed the CAHSEE.


Parents and Students Sue Over School Exit Exam

Test Ensures Students Have Skills to Compete In Global Economy of the 21st Century

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2006

A group of 10 high school students and their parents filed a lawsuit Wednesday in San Francisco Superior Court challenging the controversial exit exam nearly all California public high school students must pass to receive a diploma, on the grounds that it adds an unfair hurdle to graduation.

The case, filed against the state Board of Education and the state superintendent of public instruction, seeks an injunction to immediately suspend the consequences of the mandatory exam. If successful, it would clear the way for tens of thousands of students who have not yet passed the test to graduate this year.

"For the very first time we are telling kids they do not get a diploma unless they pass an exit exam," said San Francisco attorney Arturo J. Gonzalez at a press conference. "We think that is unfair, we think it's unwise and we think it is illegal."

This year's 12th-graders are the first class to face the graduation requirement, which includes a section of eighth-grade-level math and another of ninth- and 10th-grade-level English. Students can take the test multiple times and are required to answer little more than half of the questions correctly. The exam was offered over two days this week and will be given twice more this school year.

The number of students in jeopardy of not graduating because of their inability to pass the test remains unknown, state education officials said.

An independent study conducted last fall estimated that about 100,000 12th graders — about 20% of the state total — had not yet passed one or both sections of the test.

The study predicted that 50,000 students statewide would fail to graduate. That number, however, included disabled students who were exempted from the test last month.

Late last month, Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced that 6,000 seniors still had not cleared the hurdle.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who as a state senator wrote the law creating the test and has pushed strongly for it, defended its implementation, saying the exam is needed to gauge student achievement.

"It is a disservice to hand kids a diploma when those students are not prepared for the higher-level skills that are now required," O'Connell said in a meeting of Times reporters and editors. "I am not for a high school exit exam to be mean. It is a question of getting these students ready for the future."

O'Connell said he expects less than 10% of seniors will ultimately be barred from diplomas because of the requirement. He added that he hopes to find funding needed to add another testing date in July. Those students who fail the exam, O'Connell said, can enroll in summer school, adult education classes or community colleges until they pass.

Gonzalez dismissed such options, saying that students would be unlikely to continue their education after failing to receive diplomas.

Students and parents named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit said the exit exam could deprive thousands of students who have otherwise completed the courses required to graduate.

"Basically this test stands for, 'Go to school for four years, work hard, stay out of trouble, get passing grades, but, by the way, if you don't pass, all your efforts stood for nothing,' " said Nora Sellman, whose son Alex has repeatedly failed the math portion of the exam. "It would be criminal."

Gonzalez said he hopes to convince a judge that poor, minority students who are English learners are especially harmed by the test because they have not been properly prepared or given alternatives to the exam.

The argument stems from his firm's involvement in a landmark class-action case in which the state was accused of denying poor children adequate school resources. As part of a settlement in 2004, the state agreed to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into teacher training, textbooks and facilities improvements.

But that happened only recently, Gonzalez said. "The students have not been given a fair and equal opportunity to learn the material on this test."

Nationwide, about two dozen other states require an exit exam, although many offer alternatives for students who don't pass.

Wednesday's lawsuit is the latest turn in the contentious push for the exit exam.

Originally slated for students in the class of 2004, the test was postponed for two years because of low passing rates. Then, in January, O'Connell rejected calls from civil rights groups and others to consider alternatives to the test.


Who's failing the exit exam, the kid or the school?

By Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee Columnist, February 15, 2006

The legal challenge to the California High School Exit Exam filed last week was almost as predictable as the rising of the sun. There was no way the state was going to deny diplomas to thousands of otherwise qualified students without facing a suit. But it was still a shocker.

The suit's named plaintiffs include several Richmond High School seniors. One, Liliana Valenzuela, has a grade point average of 3.84; the suit says she's 12th in a class of 413 students. Another, Laura Echavarria, has a GPA of 4.0.

According to the complaint, both took the English-Language Arts part of the test three times and failed it each time. In addition, the plaintiffs include eight or nine at other schools who had high averages and got praise from teachers, but couldn't pass either the English or math part of the test. What's going on here? The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court by Arturo Gonzalez of the heavyweight law firm of Morrison & Foerster, demands that the state allow the students, plus thousands of others who have met all other formal requirements, to get their diplomas this spring without passing the test.

Part of the explanation is that many of the high grades came in English Language Development courses for immigrants and others with limited English skills. One of the plaintiffs, who also attends Richmond High and who is also a Mexican immigrant, has only been in the country since November 2004. Can a student who's been here just 14 months and has trouble with English really expect - and sue for - a high school diploma? The ELD courses may be important steps to English literacy, but they're not the equivalent of regular English classes. Understandably, the schools want to encourage students to stay in school.

But to allow them to believe that they're academic successes when they can't read and write at the 10th-grade level - which is where the test is pegged - is a fraud on students, parents and the society at large.

Gonzalez is right that the state, from the governor down, has acknowledged that schools serving disproportionately large numbers of poor and immigrant students, students who face the greatest hurdles, have fewer resources, inferior facilities and fewer qualified teachers. How, he asks, can the system then punish them for its own inadequacies? In 2004, when the governor settled Williams v. California, a suit based on those inadequacies, the state promised to provide better resources, but that process - getting enough books, repairing buildings, reducing multi-track programs in overcrowded buildings - is barely under way. You don't grow thousands of qualified teachers overnight.

As detailed in Bee reporter Laurel Rosenhall's insightful recent stories, many have been in class with endless strings of substitutes; many attend the worst performing schools in California. Some can't get the remedial help they need. After two or three failures, many are deeply depressed.

Gonzalez says that if "we lose this case, many more will give up and drop out. We'll start losing the class of 2007."

Yet a victory would eliminate one of the most important elements driving schools and the state to provide the resources that will allow students to meet high academic standards. The failure of students with high grades to pass the exit exam seems itself evidence of the flabby standards the state is trying to end. Maybe they should be suing their schools.

The Legislature approved a bill last fall by Assemblywoman Karen Bass that would have allowed students to get diplomas by fulfilling a yet-to-be-determined state-approved alternative performance assessment. The governor vetoed it.

The suit cites the bill as evidence of the Legislature's concern about the effects of the exam.

California is just one of two states -the other is Texas - that doesn't allow otherwise qualified seniors to substitute some other assessment for the exit exam. Gonzalez points out that private school students don't have to pass the test. One mother, said Gonzalez, unsuccessfully begged her priest to let her daughter finish in parochial school.

The situation isn't quite as dire as the suit suggests. Although tens of thousands of seniors hadn't passed one or another part of the test at the start of this academic year, many of Gonzalez's plaintiffs had another chance even as he was filing the suit last week. Others will have an opportunity next month. That's too late for most four-year college applications for next fall, but in time for graduation. The court could decide the suit is premature.

Years ago, Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, suggested that there be two diplomas, one for those who passed a tough exit exam, a lesser one for those who hadn't. They could then all cross the graduation platform, which is what many of them really want. Ultimately, that may be the way things will go.


State reviews exit exam test again

Suit says board's math doesn't add up, it has failed to meet requirements

By Jill Tucker, Oakland Tribune, March 7, 2006

With a lawsuit hanging over their heads, state Board of Education members will consider Wednesday whether the California High School Exit Exam should be the ultimate and only path to a diploma.

Just three months before graduation day, the board's agenda item fulfills a legal obligation dated seven years ago.

The 1999 law establishing the graduation requirement included a provision requiring the state Board of Education to study after the initial administrations of the examination whether there were other ways "highly proficient" students unable to pass the exit exam could demonstrate competency.

But then years passed and students were given the exit exam over and over again. A lawsuit filed in February on behalf of 10 high school seniors alleges state education officials never did the mandated study of alternatives, nor did they adequately prepare all students — especially English learners — to pass the test.

Right now — save a one-year reprieve for students with disabilities — any and all graduating seniors must pass the exam to receive their diploma come June.

At the start of their senior year, nearly 100,000 students had yet to pass both the exam's English section and its mathematics section — more than 20 percent of the class.

Initially, the graduation requirement was supposed to kick in for the class of 2004, but the Legislature — concerned that some students were not taught the necessary subject matter — authorized a two-year delay.

Then two more years passed, still without the state board considering alternatives.

In October, one of the state's largest law firms, Morrison & Foerster, challenged the state to prove it had studied alternatives to the exam, simultaneously threatening a lawsuit.

In December, the state held one public meeting about alternatives, including student portfolios and types of exams.

In January, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the state studied alternatives and none were acceptable.

"I am convinced that the only way to make sure all of our graduates have the critical skills they need in adulthood is through requiring passage of the high school exit exam," he said in a media release.

On Wednesday, O'Connell's office will recommend the state board reject any and all alternatives.

Arturo Gonzalez, the Morrison & Foerster partner who filed the lawsuit, said he believes that the apparent lack of a real study earlier in the process is grounds for a preliminary injunction to prevent the exit exam from taking effect this year.

In the meantime, one of the exit exam's strongest advocates, the nonprofit California Business for Education Excellence, is hoping to file documents supporting the state in the lawsuit, but it is butting heads with O'Connell's office regarding the release of recent exit exam results.

The state only releases those results — for several administrations of the exam — once a year, in August.

That means that there is no publicly released data regarding how students fared on the September, November, January or February administrations at this point.

The state says the data is potentially full of errors that districts need to correct.

But Jim Lanich, president of of the education excellence nonprofit, said the lack of data is unacceptable.

"I want to know how many kids are passing," he said, adding that he believes pass rates on the English and math portions of the exam will buffer arguments that students have been adequately prepared to pass the test. "We're trying to help."

Yet even if Lanich is able to get those numbers in the coming weeks, no one will know statewide how many 2006 seniors have yet to pass the exit exam.

Because the state cannot track individual students, there is no way to determine how many have passed both sections of the exam from the pass rates on the math section and the English section.

For years, state education officials have been trying to get a student information system that would allow them to track students through the system.

But such a system is years away.

Lanich said that is also unacceptable.

"These kids need help," Lanich said of those failing the exit exam. "Who are they? What help do they need and are they getting it."


Exit exam option fails

State board rejects alternatives for 'highly proficient.'

By Laurel Rosenhall , Sacramento Bee, March 9, 2006

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to reject alternatives for "highly proficient" students who fail the California High School Exam, echoing state Superintendent Jack O'Connell's staunch support of the test.

"If a student were highly proficient in both math and English, it would be a travesty if they could not pass this test because this test is very simple," said board member Donald Fisher, chairman of the Gap clothing company.

The student representative to the board echoed that view. Paul Gardner III, a Culver City High School senior, said his peers support the test. But the board's decision adds fuel to the fire for opponents of the exit exam, who say the state has not met its legal obligation to study alternative paths to graduation for students who fail the math and English test of sixth-to 10th-grade skills.

This year - for the first time in California - students must pass the exit exam to graduate from a public high school. At the start of the school year, more than 90,000 seniors still had not passed.

"Today's decision means that the only avenue left for students to receive a diploma is the litigation with the courts," said Arturo Gonzalez, an attorney with the Morrison & Foerster law firm in San Francisco.

He has sued the state to try to block the government from denying diplomas to students who fail the exam.

"Ironically, today's decision may also be one of our strongest pieces of evidence because I don't think any court is going to accept the 45-minute hearing and consider that to be an adequate study of alternatives," he said.

State law calls for the Board of Education and the state superintendent to study other ways students could demonstrate their knowledge and receive a diploma even if they fail the exit exam. At Tuesday's meeting, O'Connell's staff presented a 31-page document detailing their study of potential alternatives.

The process began in 1999, the same year the law creating the exit exam was passed, said testing director Deb Sigman. Since then, she said, a panel devoted to the exit exam has held 19 meetings with numerous experts from around the country to develop the test and consider changes. Independent consultants have conducted several studies of the exam and its impact on students.

In December, the Department of Education held a daylong meeting where education experts, lawyers, students and parents voiced their feelings about alternatives to the test. Many said they thought other measures - such as a student's grades, scores on other tests, or a portfolio of work - should substitute for a failed exit exam.

In January, O'Connell announced that none of the alternatives was feasible. They were either too time-consuming and costly, he said, or would not hold students to the same academic standard as the exam.

O'Connell said Tuesday that his study met the law's criteria.

But exit exam opponents said the state's study of alternatives was insufficient. They argued that the board should ask the Legislature to delay the exam's consequences for another year while the board studies alternatives.

"I ask you as we ask them: Do your homework with all deliberation and thought," said Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles.


School board to vote on defying exit exam law

By Simone Sebastian, San Francisco, April 5, 2006

Nearly 500 West Contra Costa high school seniors who have failed the mandatory California Exit Exam could receive diplomas anyway this June if a majority of the school board joins a colleague's call to rebel against the controversial graduation requirement.

Trustee David Brown says the graduation test is unfair to many students. One of the other four board members is willing to consider joining Brown in support of the plan. Two board members are adamantly opposed, and the remaining member is undecided.

A vote is scheduled for Monday on the proposal, which would grant high school diplomas to students who satisfy all course requirements and either pass the exit exam or an alternative assessment designed by local officials and graded subjectively.

"What can we do for our students who have demonstrated they will have a successful life, yet can't pass the exit exam?" Brown asked in proposing the resolution. "There's a work ethic that's needed (for employment) that our students demonstrate that may not show up on an exit exam."

Adoption of his plan would make the West Contra Costa Unified School District -- which covers Richmond, North Richmond, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Pinole, Hercules and Kensington -- the first in California to reject strict adherence to the exit exam law.

State Department of Education officials said Tuesday they contacted Cynthia LeBlanc, the district's interim superintendent, to warn that passing the resolution would violate the law. The Chronicle could not reach LeBlanc for comment.

But Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said her agency "would look at all possibilities, including enforcement through the courts." She also pointed out other leverage, noting that "the Department of Education is the entity that provides funds for schools."

The exit exam was adopted by the Legislature in 1999, but the penalty for failing the test was not enforced until this year. State Superintendent Jack O'Connell, who wrote the law when he was a state senator, has spoken out against locally developed alternatives to the exam, saying they could defeat the purpose of state standards.

Of West Contra Costa's 1,986 high school seniors, 498 had not passed the exit exam as of January, according to a district spokesman. Statewide, about 350,000 seniors have passed, and about 48,000 have not. Among those listed as not passing are students who took the test early this year and are awaiting results.

The test assesses language arts skills through a 10th grade level and math skills up to algebra. Students have six opportunities to pass the exam between the 10th and 12th grades and can continue taking it in subsequent years to qualify for a high school diploma.

It is being challenged in the courts as unfair to many students, especially those whose first language is not English. About 4,000 special education students have been exempted from its penalties this year.

The board will meet in closed session today with the district's lawyer.

School board President Charles Ramsey said he will vote against Brown's proposal because of its potential legal and financial ramifications.

"I understand the motivation (for the resolution). It's well intentioned, but that has to be coupled with the reality of the law," he said. "We're a part of this state. We can't secede from California."

He was joined by Trustee Karen Fenton. "We have for a long time passed along students who are not prepared for work," she said. "West Contra Costa has not always been accountable. To continue to pretend that students who can't pass this relatively simple exam are high school graduates and should get a diploma is a disservice to the students and the community."

Colleague Karen Pfeifer said she wants to review the plan before deciding her position. But she made one thing clear: She will not break the law. "I'm sympathetic to students who have taken this test several times and are caught in this situation," she said. "The state has raised the bar in granting a diploma. We can achieve (state standards) and not settle for something lower."

Trustee Glen Price said he wants to consider Brown's proposal. "I support the intent," he said. "We have the potential to handicap people for life. ... I'm waiting to find out what the impact (of the resolution) will be, creating financial and legal difficulties for the district."

Many school districts will allow students who failed the exit exam to walk across the stage and receive a "certificate of completion," which indicates that the student has fulfilled all course requirements but has not passed the exam.

There is no such provision for students in West Contra Costa County, and Brown said that the certificates are not enough.

His resolution would establish an alternative to the exit exam called the Senior Year Demonstration. It would provide other ways for students to earn a diploma, including a research project or creating a portfolio of their high school work. The Senior Year Demonstrations would be evaluated by a panel of judges that could include teachers, local business leaders and college administrators, he said.

"These are people who will have a better sense of the students than a computer that grades an exit exam," Brown said. "These kids worked hard and they deserve a diploma."

Wendy Orellana, 16, a junior at Richmond High School, has taken the exit exam twice and is awaiting the results of her latest try.

"It's hard," she said of the test. "It had some difficult words and (English) is not in my first language. It's not fair to go to school for 12 years and not receive a diploma because of a test. Life is not all about a test."


Graduates must pass exit exam

Board rejects plan to bypass state test

By Simone Sebastian, San Francisco Chronicle, April 11, 2006

The West Contra Costa school board rejected a trustee's plan Monday to grant high school diplomas to as many as 500 students who have failed California's mandatory exit exam, calling the proposal reckless and illegal.

Board member Dave Brown's resolution failed on a 4-1 vote.


oard member Karen Pfeifer said that awarding a diploma to a student who failed the exam would make the student "go forward as a sham, a fake."

"The fact is you are not prepared,'' board member Pfeifer told students who were at the meeting to support the proposal. "You aren't prepared to be an electrician or a plumber because you can't do fractions."

Pfeifer said the district has failed to adequately educate students. "We are not a diploma mill. We don't just give them away. You earn them."

Had Brown's resolution passed, the West Contra Costa Unified School District would have become the first district in California to attempt to circumvent state law, which requires high school students, beginning this year, to pass a written exam to obtain their diplomas.

During the four-hour special board meeting, lawyers warned the school district that it could lose state funding and could face a takeover by the state or county if the resolution passed. Board members received letters of warning from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and Contra Costa County education superintendent Joseph Ovick, urging them to reject the measure.

"We do have a serious risk of violating the law by using our district as a test pilot case," said board member Karen Leong Fenton.

Brown's plan would have allowed high school seniors to present a portfolio of their work or complete a research project in place of taking the exit exam as a graduation requirement.

As of January, about 25 percent of the district's 1,986 high school seniors had not passed the exit exam, compared to about 10 percent statewide. The district has not received results from the March administration of the exam.

About 130 of those West Contra Costa Unified students who failed the exam have completed the district's course requirements for graduation.

Shortly after the meeting began, more than 200 students and supporters of Brown marched into the meeting, briefly halting it, while chanting and holding signs including "don't hold our diplomas hostage."

Brown had said he believed many students who failed the exam could be successful in life and should not be penalized because the district had not properly educated them for the exit exam.

"That diploma has value. It will handicap them for the rest of their lives (to not have a diploma)," he said. "I never intended to make a point or raise an issue. The plan was to help these students."

After rejecting Brown's proposal, the board unanimously approved a plan that allows students who fulfill the district's course requirements but fail the exit exam to participate in graduation ceremonies and receive a certificate in place of a diploma.

Many other school districts will give similar "certificates of completion," which state officials say are legal but do not hold the value of a high school diploma.

Beginning this year, students must pass the test's math and language arts sections to graduate. Students can continue taking the test, which assesses language arts skills through a 10th grade level and math through algebra, after completing 12th grade to qualify for a diploma.

The test has been challenged in court as unfair, particularly to students whose first language is not English.

Last summer, West Contra Costa Unified instituted a number of interventions for students who had not passed the exam, including required exit-exam preparatory classes during school hours. About 140 students attended at least one of eight Saturday classes offered by Kaplan, said Howard Cohen, the district's regional superintendent of secondary schools.

In May, the district is holding a "graduation alternatives informational fair" at Contra Costa College, where students who have not passed the exam can learn about jobs and educational programs that do not require a high school diploma.

"I believe we've done more than most districts" to help students who have failed the exam, Cohen said.


Second suit challenges state exit exam

By Laurel Rosenhall , San Francisco Chonricle, April 11, 2006

Opponents of the California High School Exit Exam have filed a second lawsuit trying to stop the state from withholding diplomas from 12th-graders who don't pass the test by graduation in June.

While the lawsuit filed in February by the San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster alleges a wide array of wrongdoing by the state, the lawsuit filed this week by a public-interest law firm focuses on just one issue: the state's consideration of alternatives to the test that is a graduation requirement this year for the first time.

The suit was filed in Alameda Superior Court by the Public Advocates law firm and Californians for Justice, an advocacy group that has fought the exit exam. The suit alleges that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and the State Board of Education broke the law by waiting until this school year to study alternatives to the test.

O'Connell and the board "dragged their feet until it was too late to implement any alternatives for this first class facing" the exam's consequences, the lawsuit states.

"The reason there's not time to implement it is because (they) are four years late in doing the study," said John Affeldt, a Public Advocates lawyer. Students in the class of 2006 should not suffer because the state was "late in doing (its) homework," he said.

The suit asks the court to block the state from withholding diplomas from students who flunk the exit exam until the Legislature examines proposed test alternatives. Affeldt said he thought that would take at least a year.

About 48,000 California high school seniors had not passed the test by the start of this year. Advocates, scholars and lawyers have argued that some of those who flunked the exit exam's test of basic math and English skills might know the material but be bad test-takers. They have urged the state to approve alternatives - such as a portfolio of coursework, or tests that are not in a multiple-choice format - that would allow such students to demonstrate their knowledge in different ways.

O'Connell and other supporters of the exit exam say alternatives would dilute the purpose of the exit exam - to make sure all schools in the state require students to learn basic reading, writing and math in order to earn a diploma. In the past, O'Connell has said, too many poor, African American and Latino students have been allowed to graduate without those skills. He said the exit exam is forcing schools to expect more from disadvantaged students.

One piece of the law that created the exit exam calls for the state superintendent and the Board of Education to study possible alternatives to the exit exam after "the initial administrations" of the test. The new lawsuit focuses on that paragraph of the law.

The test first was given to students in the spring of 2001, but the state did not conduct a study of alternatives until December 2005, the suit claims. By then, the test had been administered at least 20 times, according to the suit, violating the required study of alternatives after "initial administrations" of the test.

O'Connell's spokeswoman Hilary McLean said she couldn't comment about the details of the suit.

"These are all arguments we will have before the judge," she said.

But McLean said the second lawsuit came as little surprise, given the legal challenges other states have faced as they have rolled out their own exit exams.

"When (California's) exit exam law was created there was certainly awareness that there would be legal challenges," she said.

Arturo Gonzalez, the Morrison & Foerster attorney who filed the first lawsuit, said he's not collaborating with the Public Advocates lawyers but welcomes additional challenges to the test.

"We have no problem with other concerned individuals joining the litigation," he said.

Affeldt said he has asked the court to rule on his case the same day it rules on Gonzalez's suit, which is scheduled for May 9. The state has asked the court for more time to respond to the second suit.

Russlynn Ali, director of Education Trust West, an Oakland group that advocates academic achievement for disadvantaged students, has been a staunch supporter of the exit exam. She said it would be a "real injustice" if the exit exam collapsed because of a technicality in the law.

"On one hand, it's really unfortunate that it sounds like process could detract from the great headway the state is making" in improving the achievement of high school students, Ali said.

"On the other hand, if they're right and there was a lack of study, then it just shows a glaring lack of stewardship over this issue. If the statute required a study, how could (they) not do the study?"


Judge Suspends 2006 H.S. Exit Exam

By Joel Rubin and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2006

A judge today suspended the state's high school exit exam, allowing as many as 47,000 students to graduate even though they failed the test.

The state immediately announced that it would appeal and pursue a stay of the ruling, though it was unclear how quickly the state courts could act.

Some districts are scheduled to hold graduation ceremonies as soon as next week, but it was unknown if they had students affected by the decision. Still, the issue threatens to upset commencement programs across California.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman said in his ruling today that he was convinced by the plaintiffs' argument that the test was discriminatory.

"There is evidence in the record that shows that students in economically challenged communities have not had an equal opportunity to learn the materials tested on the (California High School Exit Examination)," Freedman wrote.

The ruling was greeted with joy by lawyers for the plaintiffs.

"With the bold stroke of a pen, Judge Freedman has given 47,000 students an opportunity to walk the stage with their classmates and to receive their high school diplomas," lead counsel, Arturo J. González, a partner with Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, said in a statement.

State officials said they remained hopeful about an appeal.

"I am greatly disappointed in the court decision," said Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell during a teleconference call from Burbank. "It's not only a great personal disappointment, but a setback for students and hard-fought accountability."

O'Connell, who as a state senator wrote the law creating the test, said the decision was bad news for students, employers and educators.

"We do no favor to hand students a diploma," he said.

González rejected claims that the ruling meant that unqualified students would get a degree.

"In order to graduate, students need to stay in school, study hard, and pass all of their classes," he stated.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he continued to back O'Connell and supported an appeal.

"I stand behind the exit exam because it is our best resource for ensuring that schools are giving our children the knowledge and the skills they need to begin successful lives," the governor stated.

Earlier, the state asked that the judge's ruling be delayed to allow an orderly appeal to a higher court. That request was pending.

If it was rejected, O'Connell said the state would move to a higher court with its request while preparing the appeal of the decision that threw out the exam.

Echoing arguments state attorneys made earlier, O'Connell said the stay was needed to prevent confusion about whether students needed to pass the exam to graduate this year.

Today's action was expected. On Monday, Freedman released a tentative ruling indicating that he was inclined to order the state to award diplomas to students who failed the exam but completed all other graduation requirements.

He postponed issuing a decision to allow the state to raise questions over whether a temporary injunction against the test should apply to all students who have failed the exam or only to the handful who filed the lawsuit. A hearing on that issue was held earlier this week.

This year's 12th-graders are the first class to face the testing requirement, which includes a section of eighth-grade-level math and one of ninth- and 10th-grade-level English. To pass, students are required to correctly answer more than half the questions. They can take the test multiple times.

About 47,000 students statewide have failed to pass one or both parts of the exit exam and are at risk of not graduating. It is unclear how many of them have completed all of their other graduation requirements.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, officials said, about 5,200 seniors must still pass the exam to graduate. But officials won't know the final number until later this month, when the latest testing results are released.

About two dozen other states require an exit exam, although many offer alternatives for students who don't pass.

Originally slated for students in the class of 2004, the test was postponed for two years because of low passing rates. Then, in January, O'Connell rejected calls from civil rights groups and others to consider alternatives to the test.


New Exit Exam Suit Rejected

Judge rules the state did not violate the law when it required high school students to pass the test

By Jill Leovy, Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2006

Judge rules the state did not violate the law when it required high school students to pass the test.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge Tuesday dealt a defeat to activists hoping to further weaken the embattled state high school exit exam.

Judge Robert B. Freedman, who last week handed a major victory to opponents of the exam by clearing the way for thousands of seniors who failed the test to graduate, rejected another lawsuit with similar aims.

The basis of the two suits differed, however. Unlike the plaintiffs involved in last week's decision, who had argued their case on the basis of the state Constitution, Californians for Justice Education Fund, a grass-roots advocacy group, argued its case on the basis of state laws.

They contended the state had violated its own laws in adopting the exam. A California statute required the study of alternatives before adopting the exam, but the state only belatedly attempted to make such a study, the suit said.

Freedman "did not agree that the state was late. He didn't feel the timeline was that clear," said Solomon Rivera, spokesman for the plaintiffs.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell applauded Tuesday's ruling, even while expressing continued frustration with the judge's previous decision.

In a written statement released Tuesday afternoon, O'Connell said that the latest decision allows the state to focus on trying to keep the exam as "a cornerstone of California's school accountability system." But he remained "concerned about the disruption to school districts and the mixed message sent to students as a result of last week's ruling," it said.

The state plans to appeal that ruling, in which Freedman decided in favor of a group of students and parents who had argued for eliminating the test on behalf of impoverished and minority students who they said don't have an equal chance to pass it because they attend low-performing schools.

Californians for Justice Education Fund still believes the exam violates state statutes and may consider an appeal, Rivera said.

Tuesday's decision has no effect on Freedman's ruling last week. The fate of tens of thousands of California public high school seniors who have failed the exam this year, the first year it was required for graduation, remains in question.


Costly schools vs. cheap diplomas:

Pick one

By Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee Columnist, May 17, 2006

Judge Robert Freedman’s order last week that California high schools award diplomas to seniors who haven’t passed the state’s exit exam raises huge questions. How tough do we want our school standards to be and how much are we willing to do to enable all students to meet them? The answers aren’t at all obvious.

The decision issued in Alameda County Superior Court allowing thousands of students to graduate if they’ve fulfilled all other requirements is full of unresolved issues. Freedman recognized some; he ignored others.

The ruling is based in large measure on the argument that many of those who haven’t passed were shortchanged by the state’s failure to provide adequate resources to schools serving poor and minority students.

Some of them, Freedman acknowledged, might have deserved to fail because of their own inadequate efforts. But there was no way to unscramble that omelet. This is the first year that the diploma sanction was to be in effect. If the decision is not stayed, all who completed their course work will get diplomas.

The state, in settling a prior suit, itself acknowledged that resources – teachers, counselors, buildings, books, lab equipment – were inadequate and that, as Freedman noted, in many schools steps to improve conditions have just gotten under way. The students who failed the exam were thus victims of the state’s unequal treatment.

Implicitly, Freedman’s ruling was also asking the question of how students who’d been told they’d been doing well by their schools, indeed had received high grades, as some had – could fail the exam. Was it the student who deserved humiliation, or is it the school that needs fixing? But it’s also clear that many of the failing students are English learners, some of whom have been in the country only a year or two. It’s not surprising that many haven’t passed. But the notion that they’re entitled to a diploma (or should expect one) when they can’t adequately read or write English, regardless of the condition of their schools, is absurd.

More important, the judge’s ruling, if upheld, is likely to have a perverse effect, reducing the incentive of both schools and the state to provide the quality instruction and remediation that will give disadvantaged students a chance to pass the test and succeed academically.

It would almost certainly undermine the push for the better resources for poor and minority students whose alleged lack was the basis of the suit. It would reinforce the argument that some kids can’t learn enough for anyone to make a special effort to push them even to the level of the exit exam.

In allowing all students who met their other requirements to get their diplomas, Freedman also permitted the schools to mark those diplomas to indicate whether the student passed or didn’t pass the exam or in any other legal way to provide information as to whether or not he or she passed.

In effect, the decision sets the state on the road to the two-tier diploma system that was proposed by some educators years ago when the national exit exam movement was just getting under way, and long before California instituted its own.

Virtually all other states already permit schools to use some alternative to the exit exam – a portfolio of work done, for example – to let students who have met all high school course requirements to show their qualifications. Many have also lowered the grades needed to pass or softened the questions. We’ve inched a bit in the same direction.

California’s exit exam is not a good measure of what a high school graduate is supposed to know. Because no alternatives are allowed, it’s more a minimum competency test, a compromise between the tough academic standards we’d like and what realistically we can get. The math part of the test is pegged to the eighth grade, the English part to the 10th grade.

The proponents of the two-tier system called for one ordinary diploma, which is roughly what Freedman’s decision would allow – and what he seemed to suggest – and some sort of honors diploma for those who meet rigorous academic standards. That would let California peg the exam to the tough academic standards that underlie the rigorous school performance criteria imposed by the state’s accountability system. But it might also make it easier to forget that bottom half.

Much of the pressure in recent years for better educational resources for poor and minority kids, not just in California but all over America, has come from the gap between high stakes standards – like the exit exam – and what the system provides to enable those kids to succeed.

The fix, quite obviously, is to upgrade the latter, and do it wisely, not downgrade the former.

That’s a rationale that, in ordering higher state school spending, sometimes amounting to billions of dollars, many judges elsewhere have accepted. Freedman, using the same logic, came to a different conclusion. Where do we want to be?


Exit exam back on for class of '06

By Laurel Rosenhall , Sacramento Bee, May 25, 2006

The topsy-turvy battle over the high school exit exam continued Wednesday when the California Supreme Court reinstated the test as a graduation requirement for this year's seniors. Wednesday's ruling means that an estimated 47,000 seniors, about 11 percent of the class, who haven't passed the California High School Exit Exam probably will not receive a diploma with their classmates this spring.

"The truth is, it feels awful," said Armando Morales, a senior at Hiram Johnson High School who has not passed the English part of the test. "I would have liked to walk across the stage in front of my family and hear the applause. But if it's not going to happen, there's nothing I can do."

In a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court issued a stay of a lower court's preliminary injunction that would have allowed students to graduate even if they had failed the test of basic math and English skills.

The ruling is not the final word in the dispute that has put teachers, students and parents on an emotional roller coaster. That's because, in a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court also sent the case to the state's 1st District Court of Appeal for complete review.

State education officials -- who had asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the exam as a graduation requirement -- said it was unlikely the appeals court could act before graduation ceremonies are held in the Sacramento area, beginning Friday.

The lawyer representing the students who sued the state over the exit exam said he will push for the case to be heard by the appellate court soon enough to apply to the class of 2006.

"If the constitutional rights of our children are violated, we cannot punish them further by depriving them of a diploma that they have rightfully earned by passing all required courses," Arturo Gonzalez said in a prepared statement.

Gonzalez sued the state in February, claiming officials had not provided equal opportunities to all students to learn the material on the exam, which tests math up to an eighth-grade level and English up to the 10th-grade level. His lawsuit cited a host of inequities, from a lack of credentialed teachers at high schools serving large numbers of students who live in poverty or are not fluent in English, to a state funding formula that didn't give all schools extra money to prepare failing students for the test.

The argument convinced Alameda Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman, who issued the preliminary injunction earlier this month that temporarily dropped the exit exam as a graduation requirement.

In the state's appeal to the Supreme Court, attorneys argued that even if inequities exist, the proper solution is not to allow everyone to graduate.

"The remedy should be to address those inequalities, not to lessen the academic requirements, not to issue diplomas to students who haven't mastered material deemed essential by the Legislature," said Deputy Attorney General Karin Schwartz.

In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the Supreme Court's decision should give students, teachers and parents a new sense of certainty.

"School districts can continue their graduation exercises as planned before this litigation began," he said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement calling the ruling a "victory for the children of California and for our future as a state."

As news of the decision spread around Sacramento, educators heaved both sighs of relief and sighs of frustration.

"I'm relieved," said Lynne Tafoya, principal of Hiram Johnson High School, where 37 seniors have not passed the test. "Otherwise it would be a very difficult task for us to convince future students that the (exit exam) means something."

Others said they felt drained by the on-again, off-again nature of the legal battle.

"These poor kids. This is just hard," said Cynthia Clark, principal of McClatchy High School, where 26 students have not passed the exit exam.

"We've been looking at Plan A, Plan B, as we waited for the courts to battle this out and give us more direction."

At Cordova High School, teacher Kris Mayr said she had just Tuesday told a student who had failed the exit exam that he would be able to get a diploma. Wednesday she had to take that back.

"I just told him, 'Jesus, it's off again,' " Mayr said. "He just shrugged because he had already accepted getting a certificate of completion, not a diploma."

Both Mayr's student and Morales, the Hiram Johnson student, came to the United States about four years ago. Both have passed the math part of the test but struggled with the English portion.

Morales retook the English portion again recently but won't learn the results until summer. He is prepared to come back to Johnson for a fifth year of high school if his latest attempt at the exam was unsuccessful.

"If I don't pass, I'll have to fight back my tears, leave it behind and do whatever it takes to move forward," Morales said. "I think that passing the exam will mean more than the graduation ceremony. It will signify that I overcame one more obstacle in my way."

Most high schools will hold graduation in the next three weeks. But a handful of charter schools statewide have already had theirs, said Pam Slater, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

State officials don't know how many students, if any, received diplomas without passing the exam. Whether those students would be allowed to keep their diplomas is a question the department is researching, Slater said.

Similarly, if the appeals court rules against the exam after graduations have been held, it's uncertain whether the state would have to retroactively grant diplomas to students who failed the test. Schwartz, the deputy attorney general, said she expected that to be an argument up for debate before the court of appeal.

The Supreme Court ordered the appellate court to hear the case on an expedited schedule, though a date has not been set.

" 'Expedited' could mean a lot of things," said Clark Kelso, a professor at McGeorge School of Law. "The usual time frame for a court of appeal decision could be a year. So 'expedited' could be 'Let's get it done this summer so we don't run into a time crunch next year.' "


MARCH 29, 1999

Gov. Gray Davis signs a bill creating a high school exit exam. The bill, written by Sen. Jack O'Connell - who later became the state superintendent - required that all students beginning with the class of 2004 pass the test in order to graduate.

JULY 9, 2003

The State Board of Education delays the exit exam for two years. The test becomes a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2006.

FEB. 8, 2006

The Morrison & Foerster law firm sues state education officials on behalf of students in the class of 2006 who have not passed the exit exam. The case alleges that the state's schools have not prepared all students equally to pass the test.

MAY 12, 2006

Alameda Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman orders a preliminary injunction dropping the exit exam as a graduation requirement for the class of 2006.

MAY 24, 2006

The California Supreme Court stays Freedman's injunction, reinstating the test as a graduation requirement for the class of 2006, and sends the case to an appeals court for a full review.



California Department of Education Website, May 25, 2006

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today issued the following statement regarding the California Supreme Court decision granting a request by the California Department of Education (CDE) to stay a lower court order. That ruling, handed down May 12 by an Alameda County Superior Court judge, blocked the requirement that public school students pass a high school exit exam in order to graduate. In the case O'Connell v. Superior Court (Valenzuela) (S143543) the state’s high court also acted on the CDE’s request for a writ of mandate,by issuing an "order to show cause" and sending the case to the state Court of Appeal, First Appellate District (San Francisco), for further action.

"I am extremely pleased that the Supreme Court has reinstated the California High School Exit Exam as a condition for graduation. As a result, school districts can continue their graduation exercises as planned before this litigation began.

"I will communicate with districts today to ensure they are aware that the exit exam is a graduation requirement. Students who have worked hard to pass this exam will be given a diploma that signifies their mastery of essential skills in reading and math. I hope that this decision will give students in the class of 2006, their parents, and their schools certainty.

"We will not give up on the students who are still struggling to pass. They will continue to be given every option to master those skills they will need in order to succeed beyond high school.

"They may attend summer school, before and after school tutoring, remedial courses, and continue taking the exam until they pass. And for students in the class of 2006 who have not yet passed, schools and school districts are responsible for working with them to find an educational path that will help them master those skills.

"In sending this case to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court has provided us an opportunity to argue the merits of this case.

"We know, and look forward to sharing with the court, that as a result of the exit exam, our students have studied harder and learned more than they would have otherwise.

"Schools, administrators, school board members, parents, and even policy makers here in Sacramento paid more attention to the needs of students who were falling behind their peers.

"Today’s court action marks an important step for school accountability. I will continue to fight to make sure every student who graduates in California has the skills necessary to succeed."


Exit Exam Hearing Scheduled for July

The date dashes the graduation day hopes of seniors who flunked the reinstated test

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times,May 27, 2006

A California appeals court will not hear arguments over the state's controversial high school exit exam until July 25, ending any chance that students who have failed the test will earn a diploma this school year.

On Friday, justices for the 1st District Court of Appeal denied a last-ditch request for an earlier hearing sought by the lawyer fighting the testing requirement.

The midsummer date will come long after high school graduation ceremonies.

"This is a most welcome decision," state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said.

"School districts … should proceed with graduation exercises as planned before the exit exam was challenged in court," he added.


School board defies state over exit exam

By Simone Sebastian, San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 2006

In defiance of state law, the Oakland school board voted Wednesday night to grant diplomas to seniors who have not passed the state-required exit exam, in a 4-2 vote.

Because the bankrupt district is under state control and the board has been stripped of decision-making powers, however, the resolution cannot be enforced unless approved by state-appointed Administrator Randolph Ward.

Ward was chosen to lead the district by State Superintendent Jack O'Connell, who wrote the exit exam legislation, in 2003.

Ward left the meeting before the board voted and could not be reached for comment.

"Let's not be frightened by O'Connell. Let's not be frightened of Ward. Let's vote our consciences," said board member Dan Siegel, who proposed the resolution. "It's very unfair to say to students who, for 13 years, have done what we have asked them to do, 'You can't graduate.' "

Of the 1,492 Oakland seniors who have satisfied course requirements for graduation, 140 have not passed both the math and English sections of the exit exam.

Siegel and his supporters believe that inadequate funding and a lack of quality teachers puts Oakland students at a disadvantage for passing the exam, which the state requires to get a diploma.

"It doesn't matter how many times we can take the test and how many years we have to prepare when our schools have been messed up since we were in kindergarten," said Leslie Santiago, a 17-year-old junior at MetWest High School in Oakland and one of about 25 students who attended the board meeting to support Siegel's resolution.

In Oakland, seniors who do not pass the exit exam also cannot participate in graduation ceremonies. Other districts are allowing students who did not pass the exam to participate in ceremonies if they have satisfied all other graduation requirements.


Minority parents support exit exam

By Jocelyn Wiener, Sacramento Bee, August 24, 2006

Most African American, Asian American and Latino parents support the California High School Exit Exam and believe the main function of the public education system should be to prepare their children for college, according to a study released Wednesday by New America Media, a California-based ethnic media consortium.

The findings were released a day after the state came out with the most recent exit exam figures, which show a wide achievement gap between white and Asian American students and their African American and Latino counterparts.

About 88 percent of white sophomores taking the math portion of the test for the first time last year passed it, as did 92 percent of Asian American sophomores. By contrast, 57 percent of African American sophomores and 65 percent of Latino sophomores passed.

Legal challenges to the exit exam, including a high profile lawsuit shot down earlier this month by the state Court of Appeal, have been based largely on arguments that poor students, English learners, and African American and Latino students are failing the test because they are not receiving the same educational opportunities as many white and Asian American students. Critics of the exam say it is unfair to require the same outcome of all students when the state's educational system is laced with deep inequalities. The study's authors say wide support for the exit exam among minority parents flies in the face of those arguments -- that those parents are dissatisfied with a public school system that hands out diplomas without adequately preparing their children for college.

Elisa Gonzalez is a bilingual parent liaison at Luther Burbank High School in south Sacramento and has spent the summer conducting home visits to students who have failed the exit exam.

Every parent she's encountered has stood behind the exam -- even those whose children have already failed it one time, she said.

"When we explain that it's about basic math and basic English -- at about 10th grade (level) -- they really support that," Gonzalez said.

The authors of the poll say the results also challenge many of the educational establishment's assumptions about ethnic minority parents' commitment to their children's education.

Almost all parents polled -- 80 percent of Latinos, 86 percent of African Americans and 90 percent of Asian Americans -- expected their children to graduate from a four-year university; many also expected them to earn graduate degrees. The majority of parents said they believed college preparation was the key reason for their children to attend public schools.

"A lot of people in the educational establishment sometimes think ethnic parents, especially Latino or African American parents that come from the lower socioeconomic end of the scale, that they don't care about the public education of their kids, that they don't spend much time with them, that they don't meet up with their teachers," said Sergio Bendixen, president of Bendixen & Associates, the Miami-based public opinion polling firm that conducting the study. "This poll shows the complete opposite."

Bendixen & Associates interviewed 602 parents in six languages this past spring, asking their opinions ranging from preschool to college to the quality of the public education system.

More than half of parents in each ethnic subgroup said they helped their children with homework assignments every night; the vast majority helped at least a couple times a week. Ninety-one percent of Latino parents had met with their children's teachers at least twice since the start of the last school year, as had 85 percent of African American parents and 73 percent of Asian American parents.

One of the most striking results of the poll was the widespread support for the California High School Exit Exam among all three groups.

The exit exam became a graduation requirement for the first time for the class of 2006. About 97 percent of last year's white seniors passed the test by May, as did 95 percent of Asian American seniors.

By contrast, a little more than 85 percent of Latinos and 83 percent of African Americans passed the test.

Despite that disparity, 80 percent of Latino parents and 68 percent of African American parents said in the New America Media poll that they supported the exit exam.

Aubrey Hammond, a Sacramento man raising two teenage grandchildren, said he supports the exit exam because it raises the expectations necessary for a diploma.

"We Afro-Americans have got to push our kids, and not accept mediocrity," he said.

Hammond said he makes his grandchildren study for two hours a night. If they've finished their homework before two hours are up, he expects them to read.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said in a news release Wednesday that the high level of support for the exam shows that ethnic minority parents "understand that a high school diploma is meaningless if it does not signify preparation with skills necessary to succeed in education and in life."

Russlynn Ali, director of Education Trust West, an Oakland civil rights group that supports the exam, said the poll should send a message to the many civil rights advocates who oppose the test. If parents support the exam, she said, perhaps advocates should, too.

Mike Chavez, a spokesman for Californians for Justice, a liberal advocacy group that opposes the exit exam, said he was not surprised by the poll results. But he noted that support for the exit exam was coupled with a feeling among many ethnic minority parents that schools are not adequately preparing their children for careers.

Maurice Muhammed, has two sons at Jonas Salk High-Tech Academy in Sacramento; he's African American. "A lot of times, (students) are not given a challenging curriculum," he said. "They're passed along grade after grade, and they're not really prepared scholastically for the exit exam."

In the poll, 32 percent of Latinos, 18 percent of Asian Americans and 9 percent of African Americans expressed strong confidence that the public education system was adequately preparing students for successful careers.

"Our criticism is of the order of things," Chavez said. "You need to improve schools first and then assess whether students are learning."


Appeals court upholds exit exam

Panel rejects claim of lack of alternatives

By Juliet Williams, Assocaited Press, September 30, 2006

SACRAMENTO - A state appeals court on Friday rejected a second lawsuit challenging California's high school exit exam, dismissing attorneys' claim that the state Board of Education failed to thoroughly weigh alternatives to the mandatory test.

The three-judge panel upheld a lower court's decision denying a writ that would have postponed the exam for the Class of 2006.

A group called Californians for Justice Education Fund sued the board and the state Department of Education, arguing that they failed to thoroughly study alternatives to the test as the 1999 law enacting the test required.

The judges, however, said the legislation was ambiguous and did not set a timeline for any review.

Presiding Judge Ignazio J. Ruvolo of the 1st District Court of Appeal said it "might have been preferable" for the board and department "to complete their study of alternatives in time for the Legislature to act on their recommendations ... but not necessarily so."

But their failure to do so, he said in the unanimous opinion, "did not deprive the Legislature of the power to enact such alternatives if it chose to do so or to defer the effective date" of the exam.

The lawsuit, filed by San Francisco-based Public Advocates, complained that the state did not hold a public hearing to consider alternatives until Dec.15, 2005 - six years after the Legislature approved the English and math test.

Department of Education officials said they studied alternatives for a long time before December's public meeting.

The board in March accepted Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell's recommendation not to offer alternatives to the exam. He said students who don't pass in time for graduation can get extra tutoring, take another year of high school or move on to community college and take the test again later.

This year's state budget includes $75 million in remedial exit exam assistance for seniors.

The same appeals court in August rejected a lawsuit filed by a group of high school seniors who argued that the test discriminates against the poor and those who are learning English because they don't have access to the same quality of education.

The Department of Education said 91percent of the Class of 2006 passed the exit exam through the May administration of the test.

Students can take the test an unlimited number of times, starting in the 10th grade.

Pass rates for minorities and economically disadvantaged students have lagged their peers statewide, and critics contend the pass rate fails to account for frustrated students who drop out.


Measure extends disabled student exit exam waiver

By Sacramento Bee Staff, October 4, 2006

High school seniors with documented disabilities will be allowed to graduate this year even if they do not pass the California High School Exit Exam.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 267 on Friday, extending last year's exemption of special education students for another year.

That means students in the class of 2007 who have Individual Education Programs or Section 504 plans and have completed all graduation requirements can receive a diploma without passing the exit exam.

The bill also allows students who pass the test using modifications related to their disabilities -- such as calculators or dictionaries -- to graduate without going through a separate waiver process with their school districts that previously was required.

The bill by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, is the result of a lawsuit settlement.


Exit exam settlement allows extra tutoring

By Jill Tucker, San Franciso Chronicle, July 20, 2007

Students who haven't passed the California High School Exit Exam before graduation day would get two years of extra tutoring from their school districts under a tentative legal settlement reached Thursday between the state Department of Education and lawyers who sued on behalf of such students in 2006.

About 50,000 students from the high school classes of 2006 and 2007 are believed to have missed graduating because of the exit exam.

The new agreement would mean those students could get more focused and flexible help in fulfilling the graduation requirement. The settlement requires the Legislature and governor to pass and sign AB347, authorizing the extra help.

Currently, students who fail the exit exam can return for a fifth year of high school, attend adult school or take independent study to be eligible to get help and to take the exam.

Under the agreement, tentatively approved by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman, districts would be required to offer remedial language arts and math help, as well as English language instruction, to students who request it.

The settlement would end an 18-month legal battle over the fate of the exit exam. The case, Valenzuela vs. O'Connell, sought to invalidate the exam on grounds that the state failed to adequately prepare students to pass it.

"If the settlement is fully implemented, it should afford additional opportunity for students to prepare for and pass the test," said Arturo Gonzalez, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

"We are still concerned, however, with the educational inequity in California. Ultimately, that has to be fixed in order to ensure all students have a fair opportunity to pass the test," Gonzalez said.

He said that the clock is running out on the class of 2006 -- the first group required to pass the exam -- and that an immediate settlement would give them a year to seek the tutoring.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said he was "delighted" with the settlement, which would leave the exit exam firmly in place.

"I have always said that failure to pass the (exit exam) means only that a student's education is not complete," O'Connell said.

The state Legislature's current budget proposal would allocate nearly $73 million to provide remedial help to current and former students who haven't passed the test.


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