Theresa Harrington
Richmond High Counselor Edel Alejandre, right, speaks to students who have been denied their diplomas because they were unable to take and pass the exit exam after the July test was abruptly cancelled.

The governor on Wednesday signed a bill that eliminates the California High School Exit Exam graduation requirement for seniors in the class of 2015 who didn’t pass it.

Senate Bill 725 by Loni Hancock, D­-Oakland, was quickly passed by the Assembly last Thursday and by the Senate on Monday as urgency legislation to solve a dilemma that arose when about 5,000 students were denied the opportunity to retake the test in July. The state Department of Education cancelled the exam because its contract with the testing company was expiring and education officials wanted to avoid spending millions of dollars to renew the contract for a test that some believed was outdated, since it was not aligned with the new Common Core standards.

Gov. Jerry Brown did not issue a statement about why he signed the bill. But his office issued a statement that said he did not want students’ future plans to be jeopardized.

“Students who’ve been accepted into college should not be prevented from starting class this fall because of a test cancellation they could not control,” said Deputy Press Secretary Deborah Hoffman. “The governor signed this bill to ensure these students begin their college careers.”

A separate bill, SB 172 by Sen. Carol Liu, D­-La Cañada Flintridge, which aims to suspend the test through 2017­-18 and create a committee to discuss alternatives, will be addressed Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. But Hancock gutted and amended a bill dealing with visual and performing arts to expedite a solution for class of 2015 seniors who had completed all other graduation requirements. Some of those students said their college admissions were rescinded, they were unable to join the military, or they had job offers withdrawn because they didn’t receive diplomas.

Richmond High School students Brenda Diaz and Felipe Campos are among 37 students in the West Contra Costa Unified School District who will now receive diplomas thanks to the legislation. The district is planning a special graduation ceremony for the group, but has not yet set a date.

“I feel so great. I feel so happy. I’m so excited,” Diaz said in a phone interview Tuesday, after Brown’s office announced he planned to sign the bill. “I learned to never give up.”

Laughing happily during a separate phone interview, Campos was equally elated as he realized his goal of joining the Army could finally come true.

“That’s really something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a child,­ kind of a big dream for me,” he said, adding that he was glad he spoke out about his predicament. “I feel amazing. It was really worth it. If you don’t fight for what you want, you’re never going to get anywhere. In about a month, I’ll be going to boot camp, if everything goes correctly.”

Some districts didn’t wait for the legislation to pass before giving students diplomas. During the past two weeks, trustees in the San Francisco Unified, Oakland Unified and East Side Union High School districts removed the exit exam as a graduation requirement and issued diplomas so students would no longer be left in limbo.

Oakland is planning a graduation ceremony next month for the 67 students affected, but the other two districts consider the dates of their special board meetings their students’ graduation dates.

Chris Funk, superintendent of the East Side Union district, criticized the state Department of Education’s decision to cancel the test and said the Legislature was taking too long to fix the problem.

“The fact that they made the decision to save money is the worst decision I’ve ever heard of by the Department of Education,” Funk said. “So, I would expect our Legislature to take immediate action. Two weeks to do something is not immediate action – not when you have kids trying to enroll in college.”

Jack O'Connell

Jack O’Connell

Representatives from other districts praised the governor and Legislature for their action. “The governor is making the right decision in our mind,” said Oakland district spokesman Troy Flint. “He’s acting in favor of justice, in favor of equity and in favor of rewarding students for their hard work and providing them with the opportunity they’ve earned to achieve a brighter future.”

Nellie Meyer, superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, said 40 students – mostly English language learners ­– would receive diplomas as a result of the bill. She also expressed support for SB 172, saying she believes Smarter Balanced tests could be used as high school exit exams.

“We should be able to find cutoff points that align with 8th­-grade mathematics and 10th­-grade English,” she said. “If there’s a way we could avoid testing students more than we need to, I’m all for it.”

Jack O’Connell, who authored the legislation that required the exit exam before he served as state Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2003-11, said in an EdSource commentary that this specific test, put into place in 2006, “was always meant to be temporary.”

“We were transitioning to new state academic standards, and we knew those standards would change again in the future,” he said. “I’ve always believed that our assessment and accountability systems need to be coherent and avoid duplicative and unnecessary testing, and the current version of the high school exit exam is neither aligned to our standards nor essential to the development of our new accountability system.”

After students spoke out about the negative effect of the test cancellation earlier this month, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson issued an Aug. 13 news release asking public universities to help students who were denied admission because they didn’t pass the exam.

“No student’s dream of a college education should be delayed because of an anomaly,” Torlakson said, in a prepared statement. “That’s why I am working closely with college administrators and the Legislature to remedy the situation and help these students stay on track for college.”

He noted that SB 172 was “making its way through the Legislative process,” but didn’t mention that it would not go into effect until January, if it passes.

Tom Torlakson

Tom Torlakson

“With the legislation to suspend the California High School Exit Exam progressing, the $11-million­-a­-year contract to administer the test was not renewed, and therefore the July exam was not offered as in past years,” according to Torlakson’s news release.

But others appeared to blame Torlakson and his department. Attorney General Kamala Harris called the decision to cancel the test “a thoughtless bureaucratic blunder” in an Aug. 14 statement.

“This oversight creates real and immediate harm for these students,” she said.

A San Francisco district news release pointed out that Torlakson cancelled the test before SB 172 was considered by the Senate, “leaving many seniors without an additional opportunity to obtain a high school diploma.”

Several Republican legislators also asked for accountability, saying they don’t want to do away with testing and this contract controversy should have been anticipated well in advance.

The California State University system announced last week that it would not turn away applicants who met all other graduation requirements except for passing the exit exam. In addition, the state Department of Education decided not to penalize districts that defied state law by granting diplomas to students in the class of 2015 who met all other graduation requirements, said Communications Director Bill Ainsworth in an email.

Ainsworth said it would have cost about $2 million to administer the July test. However, he noted that the Department of General Services prohibited the extension of the exam contract by instead requiring new Request for Proposals for the test.

The state informed schools on June 1 that the July test would be cancelled, causing frustration not only for students in the class of 2015, but also for those from previous years who have met all graduation requirements except for passing the exam. Now that those in the class of 2015 can receive diplomas, many students who have been trying for years to pass are wondering whether they can receive the same exemption.

Monica Billy, whose daughter didn’t pass the exam in 2014, but met all other graduation requirements, has taken her pleas for an exemption to the state Department of Education. Her daughter, she said, can’t get federal financial aid to attend community college without a diploma.

Some education department officials told her the Legislature might address all students who haven’t passed the exam in SB 172. Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley said the bill is still being amended.

“In the meantime,” he said, “the California Department of Education is having our contractor prepare to offer the next administration of CAHSEE in November, if the bill is unsuccessful.”

Audio interviews recorded and edited last week by Matt Levin.

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  1. john molina 6 months ago6 months ago

    I was short credits and failed the CAHSEE test. Am I still eligable? I really want a diploma or GED, I’m smart and capable of being a responsible adult. Any suggestions? Something fast and efficient?

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 6 months ago6 months ago

      John, If you were short credits, you would need to go to adult school to make up the additional credits in order to get a high school diploma. However, you no longer need to pass the CAHSEE. Contact your local school district to see how you could make up the missing credits. Another alternative is to take the GED high school diploma equivalency test. Your local adult school should have information about that as well. Good luck!

  2. Cierra Daniels 8 months ago8 months ago

    I was supposed to graduate in 2014, I had all my high school requirements but moved to California my senior year and had to take the CAHSEE test. I did not pass the math section so I wasn't able to get my diploma but they let me walk the stage with my class the day of graduation in my cap and gown I paid for. Am I eligible to receive my diploma? I want … Read More

    I was supposed to graduate in 2014, I had all my high school requirements but moved to California my senior year and had to take the CAHSEE test. I did not pass the math section so I wasn’t able to get my diploma but they let me walk the stage with my class the day of graduation in my cap and gown I paid for. Am I eligible to receive my diploma? I want to enlist in the military but can’t unless I have my diploma. My recruiter saw this law after I discussed my situation with him, and this new law gave me hope.

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 8 months ago8 months ago

      As long as you satisfied all other graduation requirements, you are eligible. Contact your district to request your diploma and confirm your eligibility.

  3. Alexia 11 months ago11 months ago

    Where can I find out if I am eligible? I have all my requirements. All credits except i did not pass the Math part of Cahsee.
    I go to an adult school right now because i couldnt get financial aid.
    Ive been waiting for this for so long and now I am extremely excited to go to college.

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 11 months ago11 months ago

      Alexia: Contact your high school or school district. If you passed all of the courses required for graduation, you should qualify. Congratulations!

  4. Natalie Avila 11 months ago11 months ago

    I finish all my four years of high school but didn't pass my English exam. I had an accident, I came back to school an had to take special ed classes which I completed 230.00 credits requirements where only 210 and I finished high school with a certificate of completion. I tried to get my high school diploma because of the Senate Bill 725 and my school said that since I was in special … Read More

    I finish all my four years of high school but didn’t pass my English exam. I had an accident, I came back to school an had to take special ed classes which I completed 230.00 credits requirements where only 210 and I finished high school with a certificate of completion. I tried to get my high school diploma because of the Senate Bill 725 and my school said that since I was in special ed I cant get my diploma, so now I can not get financial aid help in my college its very sad.

  5. Freeman 11 months ago11 months ago

    ObamaCore strikes again. “,,, since it was not aligned with the new Common Core standards.” This may have started as an administrative snafu, but read the first sentence again. That’s the real problem. More dumbing down of our education system as more and more un/under educated folks pour into the country.

  6. Ruben Delgado 11 months ago11 months ago

    what does someone who was due to graduate on 2003 do if he failed a few classes senior year and never received his diploma.

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 11 months ago11 months ago

      Ruben, If you did not pass classes required for graduation, you could retake the courses in an adult school diploma program or take the GED HS Diploma Equivalency Exam. If you passed all required classes, but failed the CA HS Exit Exam, you are now eligible to receive a HS diploma.

  7. Melanie rosenberg 12 months ago12 months ago

    Im trying to get my sons diploma i sont know where to start he graduated but never recived his diploma because of cashee can u help or direct me please !

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 12 months ago12 months ago

      Contact your son’s high school and/or school district to find out what their process is for awarding diplomas to students who didn’t pass the CAHSEE, but completed all other graduation requirements. Districts can begin awarding the diplomas after Jan. 1, according to the law signed by Gov. Brown.

  8. Linda 1 year ago1 year ago

    Is GED testing the same? I passed by writing and reading, but not my math. Can I still get a diploma?

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 1 year ago1 year ago

      Sorry, no. The GED is a completely separate test that provides students with high school equivalency certificates instead of diplomas. However, many adult schools offer high school diploma classes for students who want to catch up on credits they missed to get a diploma instead of the GED. Did you complete all of your required high school credits? If so, you should be able to get a diploma instead of the GED.

  9. Grace 1 year ago1 year ago

    I graduated in 2007 have all my credits but failed the math part of the test has the law been signed sb-172 to get my high school diploma?

    Replies

  10. selena 1 year ago1 year ago

    I was supposed to graduate 2013 finished all my credits and the English cahsee ....But I tried so many times to retake the math part and I just could not pass.... will there be any changes for students who didn't pass the chasee exam before the year 2014 ? I got pregnant my senior year of high school. went back right after I had my son... I Would stay day and night trying to finish … Read More

    I was supposed to graduate 2013 finished all my credits and the English cahsee ….But I tried so many times to retake the math part and I just could not pass…. will there be any changes for students who didn’t pass the chasee exam before the year 2014 ? I got pregnant my senior year of high school. went back right after I had my son… I Would stay day and night trying to finish my classes so that I had the chance to graduate…..Still had the graduation walk experience because my test results were not going to be back by graduation….few weeks after graduation found out I did not have a passing score… I tried to enroll in college but I was afraid that they would deny me due to the cahsee that I didn’t pass. please give me some hope here ):

    Replies

  11. lily 1 year ago1 year ago

    I really, hope in the future all the student don't have to take high school exam....including me.... I finish my high school long time ago....but I didn't pass the high school exam...so didn't get the diploma.... and afraid to goto work. Read More

    I really, hope in the future all the student don’t have to take high school exam….including me….
    I finish my high school long time ago….but I didn’t pass the high school exam…so didn’t get the
    diploma…. and afraid to goto work.

    Replies

    • Steven Lipari 1 year ago1 year ago

      Hi Lily! Be sure to follow the news (on TV and online) concerning Senate Bill (SB) 172. If the governor signs this bill into law, students from past years that had met all high school requirements other than the exit exams would be able to graduate! Be sure to tell your friends as well!

      Best wishes,

      Steven Lipari
      Foothill High School, San Jose’, CA

  12. Chelena Vranna 1 year ago1 year ago

    I was supposed to graduate high school in 2009. I have taken the math part of CAHSEE four different times the six years I've been out of high school. I have 242 credits and the requirements are for 230. But have been unsuccessful to pass that part of the test. It's been hindering me to become an RN and other dreams I have. I really REALLY hope it passes for earlier school years. Working … Read More

    I was supposed to graduate high school in 2009. I have taken the math part of CAHSEE four different times the six years I’ve been out of high school. I have 242 credits and the requirements are for 230. But have been unsuccessful to pass that part of the test. It’s been hindering me to become an RN and other dreams I have. I really REALLY hope it passes for earlier school years. Working that hard for those extra credits seems like a waste just to get my G.E.D.

    Replies

  13. Vy Lam 1 year ago1 year ago

    When can i receive my diploma ? I am in East Side Union high school

    Replies

    • Theresa Harrington 1 year ago1 year ago

      If you were in the Class of 2015, you can call the district at 408-347-5000 to find out how to get your diploma and updated transcript. I don’t believe East Side Union is planning a graduation ceremony.