Lawmakers consider retroactive diplomas for students who failed exit exam

August 28, 2015

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State lawmakers have added an amendment to a proposed bill that could allow school districts to retroactively award diplomas to students even if they failed the California High School Exit Exam.

The assembly Appropriation’s Committee added a provision to Senate Bill 172 that would grant districts waivers to award diplomas to students as far back as 2006, when the exit exam became a requirement for graduation.

The provision would only affect students who met all other graduation requirements but could not pass the exit exam, said Robert Oakes, spokesman for Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, author of SB 172.

Each school district would have to decide if it wants to award the diplomas retroactively, Oakes said.

The bill could go for a vote before the full Assembly early next week, Oakes said.

The original bill called for the state to suspend the exit exam in the 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 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.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jerry 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 several more times as permitted under state law.

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. It’s unclear how many of these students also lacked sufficient credits or high enough grades to earn a diploma even if they had passed the exit exam.

Alycia Billy, 19, from Ukiah in Mendocino County, failed the math portion of the exit exam by only one point, denying her a diploma in 2014.

Billy said she was so happy to hear about the amendment including students from previous years, like her, that she wanted to cry.

“I just feel like things are happening for a reason because I’ve tried so hard and now it’s finally going to happen,” she said optimistically. “I’m so happy. I’m just so thankful. I really honestly didn’t give up. I come from a family where we don’t give up. We just keep trying until we succeed.”

Billy will consider writing letters to lawmakers urging them to approve the bill as amended, so she and others who have been trying for years to pass the test can fulfill their dreams, she said.

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