8,000 LA Unified students who failed high school exit exam eligible for diploma

October 29, 2015

The Los Angeles Unified School District has identified at least 8,069 former students who are eligible for high school diplomas after failing the California High School Exit Exam.

The students are those who failed the exam but met every other graduation requirement. The district, the nation’s second-largest, will soon begin notifying eligible students through the mail, and will launch a website so former students can determine if they qualify, district officials said this week.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law earlier this month Senate Bill 172, which will require districts statewide to retroactively award diplomas to students from as far back as the class of 2006.

“The district is in the process of verifying students’ academic records to ensure they meet the criteria,” said Barbara Jones, a district spokeswoman.

The website “will allow us to reach those who may have moved or who we otherwise may have missed,” Jones said.

Los Angeles Unified and other districts that are coordinating outreach efforts will start issuing the diplomas after Jan. 1, when the new law takes effect.

Only students who earned necessary credits and passed all required classes can receive a diploma, according to the new law.

More than 40,000 students statewide are estimated to qualify for retroactive diplomas.

Jones said Los Angeles Unified staff started poring over records of former students in September, after the state Legislature overwhelmingly approved SB 172.

“Existing employees from a number of divisions are working together on this project,” Jones said. “At this point, the cost of printing the diplomas is the only expense that has been identified.”

Since 2006, the first year the exit exam served as a graduation requirement, more than 250,000 Los Angeles Unified seniors received diplomas after passing the test and meeting other graduation requirements.

Most of the 8,069 students without diplomas, including 272 from the class of 2015, struggled through multiple attempts at passing the test, Jones said. Some continued taking the test even after the end of their senior year.

SB 172, authored by Sen. Carol Liu, D­-La Cañada Flintridge, removes the exit exam as a requirement for graduation for students who still haven’t passed because they no longer have an opportunity to take the test.

The state is no longer administering the exit exam after its contract with the test’s publisher expired. May was the last time the exam was given to students.

The new law also suspends the exit exam as a requirement for graduation through 2018. Meanwhile, lawmakers and educators will determine if the state should create a new version of the test that’s aligned with the Common Core State Standards, or eliminate it altogether as a graduation requirement in the future.

Statewide, other districts have also started reviewing records of former students to try to identify those now eligible for diplomas.

At the Santa Ana Unified School District, officials recently began searching through transcripts.

“We are looking into this issue very carefully and will communicate out the process and timeline as soon as we are ready,” said Santa Ana Unified spokeswoman Deidra Powell. “Once that is in place, the verification process is not very difficult and should be able to be completed in a reasonable time.”

The San Francisco Unified School District has already posted an online form for former students to fill out if they believe they qualify for a diploma.

The district estimates that about 700 former students will be awarded diplomas retroactively.

“I will not be embarrassed to apply to new and better jobs. It will finally bring peace from all the anxiety I had of not being able to pass the test,” said Mayra Olson, a former student from the class of 2007.

Individual San Francisco high schools are also using their networks, including social media, to reach out to former students who might qualify, said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

San Francisco Unified has hired a full-time counselor to review transcripts.

The state Department of Education has not yet released guidelines for how districts should process, review or contact former students. Until now, state officials have encouraged former students who believe they’re eligible for diplomas to call their district directly.

Mayra Olson, from Chula Vista, was supposed to graduate in 2007 from Hilltop High School. But she could not pass the math portion of the test.

Olson, now 26, said receiving a diploma now will allow her to finally close a painful and frustrating chapter of her life.

“It will mean the complete world to me,” said Olson, who works as a part-time legal assistant and plans to eventually enroll at a university. “I will not be embarrassed to apply to new and better jobs. It will finally bring peace from all the anxiety I had of not being able to pass the test.”

EdSource Today staff writer Sarah Tully contributed to this report.

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