Saturday, August 19, 2006

California: Appeals court upholds exit exam

Aug. 12, 2006

Appeals court upholds exit exam
By Dana Hull
Mercury News
The California Court of Appeal issued a ruling Friday that upholds the controversial California High School Exit Exam for the class of 2006.

But attorneys for a group of students who brought the suit said they would file a petition for review in the California Supreme Court within 10 days.

The legal back-and-forth has alternately frustrated and given hope to thousands of students, many of them English language learners, who are still struggling to pass the exam. In May, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled that many students had not had an equal opportunity to learn the material being tested; that decision has now been effectively overturned.

Friday's ruling by justices in the court's 1st District in San Francisco hands a huge victory to state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell, who was traveling in Phoenix but quickly arranged a teleconference with reporters. O'Connell has long argued that awarding diplomas to this year's seniors who failed the exit exam would hurt them more than help.

``The court's decision affirmed what I have long said: The purpose of an education is not to equip students with diplomas, but with essential skills they need to survive in a competitive global economy,'' said O'Connell, a former high school teacher. ``Students have a right to an education. They do not have a right to a diploma.''

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also issued a statement applauding the ruling and stressed that this year's state budget includes $75 million for support services to help students who are still struggling with the exam.

But the plaintiffs' attorneys said many of the measures designed to help students are too little and too late.

``As a result of this ruling, one of our clients will be unable to attend college at California State University,'' said attorney Arturo Gonzalez in a statement. ``In addition, the 40,000 students who have not passed the exit exam are unlikely to benefit from any remedial measure that might be implemented at this late date.''

Student advocates have argued that students, particularly those who attend schools in poor neighborhoods, often lack trained teachers and adequate textbooks and are being tested on material they were never taught.

But ``the skills tested on the CAHSEE are neither esoteric nor highly advanced,'' wrote the Court of Appeal panel in its ruling.

Students first take the exit exam as high school sophomores and can take it again as juniors and seniors if they are struggling to pass it.

They must earn a 60 percent score on a test of 10th-grade English skills and a 55 percent score on a test of math, which includes some algebra. In January, the pass rate for the Class of 2006 was 89 percent; state education officials said Friday that figure has inched up to 91 percent.

But just 83 percent of African-American students and 77 percent of English language learners have passed it.

Still, O'Connell defends the exam, saying all students should be held to the same high standard.

Contact Dana Hull at or (408) 920-2706.

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