What former, current high school students need to know about exit exam

October 7, 2015

The California High School Exit Exam was required for graduation after 2006.

UPDATE: On Oct. 7, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 172, which will allow former students who failed the exit exam, but passed their classes, to earn diplomas. The bill also suspends the exam until 2018. See the full story.

Former and current high school students will soon find out if they still need to pass the California High School Exit Exam to earn diplomas – a requirement for almost a decade.

The Legislature passed a bill, SB 172, which would allow former students to receive diplomas if they met all other graduation requirements but failed the test. The bill also would suspend the exam for current high school students through 2018.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until midnight Oct. 11 to decide whether to sign the bill.

But even before the bill was passed, the exit exam requirement was already on hold. Over the summer, the state abruptly canceled the administration of the exam, leaving thousands of current and former students in limbo.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the exam’s status and how it could affect former and current students.

What is the California High School Exit Exam and when did it start?

In 2000, the California Legislature passed the law requiring students to pass an exam to graduate from high school. Students in the class of 2006 were the first who were required to pass both the English and math sections of the California High School Exit Exam, also known as the CAHSEE, to receive a diploma. The math portion is based on 6th- and 7th-grade math standards, along with some Algebra I questions. The English section is based on 8th-, 9th- and 10th-grade standards.

How many chances did students have to pass the exit exam? What happened if students passed all of their classes but didn’t pass the exam?

Students were given eight opportunities during high school, starting in 10th grade, to pass the exit exam. If students completed all of their classes but failed the exit exam, they often received certificates of achievement.

After leaving high school, former students who had failed the exam had several opportunities to try to pass it again.

What is the current status of the exit exam?

The state’s contract with the Educational Testing Service, which administered the exam, technically ends Oct. 31. But the contract only covered testing through May. In June, the California Department of Education canceled the planned July administration of the test, leaving students from the Class of 2015 and previous classes in limbo.

What happened to students in the Class of 2015 who didn’t pass the exam?

In August, Gov. Brown signed urgent legislation, SB 725, which eliminated the exit exam requirement for Class of 2015 students who hadn’t passed it. The Legislature and Brown moved quickly to approve the law after the July administration of the test was canceled. About 5,000 students from the Class of 2015 hadn’t passed the exam by the summer.

What is happening to previous students who failed the exam?

Former students who failed the exit exam but met all other graduation requirements might be granted diplomas if Brown signs a bill sent to him by the Legislature.

In September the Legislature passed the bill, SB 172, which would require school districts to retroactively grant diplomas to students who failed the exit exam but met all other graduation requirements. The law would apply to graduating classes as far back as 2006. Brown has until midnight Oct. 11 to sign or veto the legislation.


If Brown signs the law, how will former students receive their diplomas?

The former students would have to petition the school district, county office of education program or charter school they attended to receive their diplomas.

California Department of Education officials are drafting a letter to provide guidance to county, district and charter school administrators on the bill, if it is signed. The letter will outline the law’s requirements and how districts would be affected. Update: The California Department of Education has posted answers to frequently asked questions about the new law.

It is unclear if districts will be required to do any outreach to former students.

However, officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District – the state’s largest district – already are identifying former students who would be eligible for diplomas under the bill. District officials plan to notify the former students using their last addresses on file. A website will also be set up for students who believe they are eligible for a diploma to apply online.

What happens to students who are in high school now? Will they have to pass an exam to graduate?

Current high school students would be exempt from the exit exam, under the same bill, SB 172. The bill would suspend the exam for 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Will there be an exit exam in the future?

That decision will come in the next few years.

The bill requires the state superintendent to appoint an advisory panel to decide on the “continuation of the high school exit examination” or “alternative pathways to satisfy the high school graduation requirements.” The panel might consider a brand new test – using the Smarter Balanced assessments or other measurements – that will be required to earn a diploma. The Legislature would make a final decision.

Are there any exceptions for special education or English learner students?

State law exempts some students with disabilities from the requirement to pass the exit exam to graduate. See the full rules on special education students.

English learners are allowed to take the exam with certain test “variations,” such as receiving directions in their primary language or using a translation glossary. But English learners have had to meet the same exit exam requirement as their English-fluent peers to earn a diploma.

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