Students in limbo after high school exit exam canceled

June 26, 2015
sbac, smarter balanced, CAASPP, common core

The state canceled next month’s administration of the California High School Exit Exam because the test contract expired, leaving possibly thousands of students’ graduation status in limbo.

State law began requiring that students pass an exit exam to graduate from high school starting with the Class of 2006, giving students eight chances to take it during high school.

But the contract with Educational Testing Service, which administered the exam, only ran through the May test, prompting the California Department of Education to halt the July exam, said Keric Ashley, the department’s deputy superintendent. State officials were awaiting direction from the state Legislature before taking action on the test contract.

About 5,000 seniors, who would have been part of the Class of 2015, are missing the opportunity to take the July exam – often the last-ditch chance to graduate over the summer.

The cancellation comes as the state Legislature considers a bill, SB 172, which would suspend the exit exam requirement for three years.

As introduced earlier this year, the bill called for the exam’s suspension starting in 2016-17 so there would be time to develop a graduation requirement aligned to the new Common Core standards. The exit exam, known as CAHSEE, is based on the former state standards, which are no longer taught in classes.

When state lawmakers learned that the exam’s contract was expiring, the bill was changed to either suspend the requirement that students pass the exam during those three years or “when the exit exam is no longer available.” Because of the uncertainty of the test’s contract, lawmakers added the clause to give flexibility to schools on the graduation requirement.

“It was discovered in actuality, it’s ended anyway because the contact expired,” said Suzanne Reed, chief of staff for Sen. Carol Liu, who is sponsoring the bill.

The California Department of Education sent a June 1 letter to districts, notifying them of the July test cancellation.

Ashley said state officials are watching what the Legislature does with the bill to determine what will happen to the exam and those students who have yet to pass it. A hearing is set for Wednesday on the bill in the Assembly Education Committee. The bill already passed in the Senate.

“Everyone is aware that students are out there waiting and hoping to graduate and they are anxious to hear what the news is,” Ashley said.

It’s unclear what will happen to those students. If the bill passes, the students may be able to skip the exam requirement to graduate. If the bill fails, the state may attempt to extend the test contract so students could take it later, Ashley said.

But there is reluctance to extend the contract for an exam that no longer tests the standards that students are learning.

“There were some folks who opposed suspending the exit exam, saying we need something to hold (students) to some standards,” Reed said. “This is holding them to meet a standard they are not prepared to meet. I don’t know what the purpose would be.”

The vast majority of students pass the exit exam, which includes a math section that goes through Algebra 1 and English sections based on 10th grade standards.

For the Class of 2014, 95.5 percent, or 417,960 students, passed both sections by the end of senior year, according to the California Department of Education.

The July testing is usually small: 4,847 students took the math section and 5,826 students took the English section in July 2013, the most recent figures available. Many of those failing students are often missing school credits and would not have graduated anyway, education officials said.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest district, between 400 and 500 students usually take the July exit exam, said Cynthia Lim, executive director of the district’s office of data and accountability.

District officials were in the middle of setting up places for students to take the July test when the state called off the exam. Also, the district nixed summer school classes to prepare for the exit exam.

“Anytime we take away an opportunity for students, I don’t think it’s a good thing,” Lim said. “On the other hand, CAHSEE is a test aligned to the old California standards, so it’s probably time for revamping that.”

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