High School Exit Exam Reinstated
By Jesus Sanchez, Staff Writer / Los Angeles Times
May 24, 2006
Tens of thousands of California high school seniors who have failed the state exit exam will not receive their diplomas after the state Supreme Court today reinstated the test as schools statewide prepare for graduation ceremonies.
The state high court granted a request by the state education department to lift a nearly two-week old injunction that had blocked the use of the tests to determine whether students could graduate. An estimated 47,000 students have failed the exam.
The case was sent to the state appellate court for further action.
"School districts can continue their graduation exercises as planned before this litigation began," said State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell during a press conference this afternoon.
"We will not give up on the students who are still struggling to pass. They will continue to be given every option to master those skills they will need in order to succeed beyond high school," he said.
The Supreme Court justices stayed a May 12 decision by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman, who issued a preliminary injunction against the mandatory testing requirement, ruling that it places an unfair burden on poor and minority students who attend low-performing schools.
The challenge to the exit exam was filed by attorney Arturo Gonzalez on behalf of a group of students and their parents.
Gonzalez today said his clients would continue to fight the test in court.
"The Supreme Court did not say that Judge Freedman was wrong," Gonzalez said in a statement. "Four justices simply questioned whether allowing our clients to graduate was the appropriate remedy. We intend to demonstrate that the relief was proper. If the constitutional rights of our children are violated, we cannot punish them further by depriving them of a diploma that they have rightfully earned by passing all required courses."
The legal battle has loomed over many of the 46,700 seniors statewide -- roughly 1 in 10 -- who have failed the two-part test. This year's 12th-graders were the first class to face the testing requirement, which includes a section on eighth-grade math and another on ninth- and 10th-grade English. Students are required to answer little more than half the questions correctly and can take the test multiple times. Students with learning disabilities are exempted from the test.
Originally slated for students in the class of 2004, the test was postponed for two years because of low passing rates. In January, O'Connell, who wrote the legislation mandating the exam in 1999, rejected calls from civil rights groups and others to consider alternatives to the test.
In issuing the injunction, Freedman said he was swayed by Gonzalez's argument that many impoverished and minority students -- particularly those learning English as a second language -- attend low-performing schools that do not prepare them for the test.
Of the 46,700 seniors who have failed the test, 20,600 are designated as limited English learners and 28,300 are poor.
Some of those students have retaken the tests, but it is not known how many may have passed.
— Times staff writers Joel Rubin and Seema Mehta contributed to this story.
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times