State lawmakers have sent a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would allow school districts to retroactively award diplomas to high school students who failed the California High School Exit Exam.
The Senate voted 23-14 on Thursday to support Senate Bill 172, which would award diplomas for students who were attempting to graduate as far back as 2006, when the exit exam became a requirement for graduation. The state Assembly had already passed the bill earlier in the week.
The proposed law would only affect students who met all other graduation requirements but could not pass the exit exam. Students would have to contact their individual school districts to determine if they qualify.
The state is no longer administering the exit exam after its contract with the test’s publisher was set to expire in October. May was the last time the exam was given to students.
“A large number of adult students continue to work toward their diploma,” said Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, author of the bill.
Students in adult education were allowed to continue taking the exit exam several times, even years after they were supposed to graduate from high school.
State Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, and some Republican lawmakers opposed SB 172 because they said it “cheapened” the value of diplomas for students who earned them by passing the exit exam.
“I do believe exit exam has served a noble purpose,” Huff said. “It’s something that we have as measure to show that students have met some sort of requirement. It’s a dumb move (to retroactively award diplomas) and I oppose it.”
SB 172 originally called for the state to suspend the exit exam in the 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years and eliminating it as a graduation requirement during that time. Meanwhile, lawmakers and educators would determine if the state should create a new version that’s aligned with the Common Core State Standards, or eliminate it altogether as a graduation requirement.
Lawmakers added the provision last month to retroactively grant diplomas to any student who met all graduation requirements except for passing the exit exam.
Three weeks ago, Gov. Brown signed legislation that exempted students from the graduating class of 2015 from having to take the test in response to a snafu that left thousands of seniors without the ability to take the test in July and in subsequent attempts this fall and spring.
Brown could consider signing SB 172 as early as next week. He has not publicly indicated whether he would support the bill.
Robert Oakes, a spokesman for Liu’s office, said the governor’s office has worked with Liu’s team to add the provision to award retroactive diplomas. Oakes said he anticipates Brown will sign the legislation.
Between 2006 and 2014, nearly 249,000 students, or about 6 percent of test-takers, did not pass the exit exam before the end of their senior year, according to data from the Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO, an independent evaluator commissioned by the state to review results of the exit exam each year. That data shows that most of those students also lacked sufficient credits or high enough grades to earn a diploma even if they had passed the exit exam. HumRRO estimates that between 1 and 4 percent of seniors met all graduation requirements except for the exit exam.
Students who failed the exit exam but met all other graduation requirements were often awarded certificates of achievement, a diploma-like document.
Still, many were prevented from applying to some four-year colleges, vocational training programs, or military service or for jobs that required a high school diploma.
If Brown signs the legislation, it would go into effect Jan. 1.
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