What a huge victory if this bill gets through the governor. The concern that this would lower standards has no basis since testing would still be used for NCLB and school performance ratings. What this bill does is remove the reliance on a single indicator to measure students' performance, which in CA would allow an average of 22,500 students to receive a diploma.
Jill Tucker, SF Chronicle
Thursday, June 18, 2009
A day after legislators shocked state education officials by voting to eliminate the high school exit exam graduation requirement, the governor has promised to kill any proposal that would do away with the high-stakes test.
A key budget committee included the bombshell in a package aimed at trimming the K-12 budget by $10 million this year and next. Six Democrats on the budget conference committee voted to do away with the exit exam requirement Tuesday while four Republicans opposed it.
The committee's recommendations typically hold great sway in subsequent budget negotiations.
No one in the education community saw the critical exit exam requirement vote coming, including state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.
"No heads-up, no hearing. No public notice on it," he said angrily Wednesday.
High school students have been required to pass the controversial math and English exam to get a diploma since 2006. The budget committee's proposal was to eliminate the graduation requirement but not the test itself.
Those who voted to eliminate the graduation requirement said they could not in good conscience continue to require the exam while slashing school budgets.
"When the state is making cuts that could lead to a shorter school year, fewer teachers and larger class sizes, it doesn't seem realistic to expect the same results as before the cuts," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County), in a statement.
Educators criticized that reasoning, saying lower academic expectations were unacceptable.
"We owe it to our children to not lower our standards or expectations no matter how dismal the economy," San Francisco schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia said in an e-mail. "The question this raises is, 'Are we giving up on a generation? Are we dooming our children for our own comfort today?' To that I fear the answer is yes."
The proposal to cut the program comes as legislators and the governor are under pressure to solve the state's $24.3 billion deficit by the end of July. Eliminating the exit exam requirement would save the state about $8 million a year.
Exam supporters said they didn't know whether the effort to kill the graduation requirement really has legs or if it's become a pawn in what promises to be a protracted legislative budget battle over a wide range of issues, including higher taxes and massive cuts to services.
The governor's stand put the exit exam on a long list of his nonnegotiable issues.
"The governor has been a long-standing and strong supporter of the California High School Exit Exam and will veto any proposal to eliminate it," said Camille Anderson, his spokeswoman.
Not a top priority
Yet members of the Assembly Republican Caucus conceded that saving the exit exam requirement will not be at the top of their priority list.
"There are so many bigger challenges we need to get through first before we deal with some of those other details," said caucus spokeswoman Jennifer Gibbons.
A vote on the committee's plan could take place as early as Monday. Even if the graduation requirement is eliminated, students would still be required to take the exam once to fulfill federal "No Child Left Behind" testing requirements.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, was among the six Democrats on the committee who voted to eliminate the exit exam requirement.
"I'm surprised that anyone was surprised," Leno said of the vote. "The (exit) exam has been controversial for many years."
Bass and Leno both cited recent research showing problems with the test.
A Stanford University study released in April found that girls and students of color - who perform just as well as boys and whites, respectively, on other statewide tests - disproportionately fail the exam.
In addition, the research found no evidence that students are doing better in school because of the test.
Nonetheless, nearly 3 of 4 public school parents support the requirement, according to a 2009 Public Policy Institute of California survey.
8 chances to pass
The exit exam includes math up to Algebra I and English/language arts at about a 10th-grade level. Students, who first take the exam as sophomores, have eight chances to pass before graduation day and unlimited chances after 12th grade if necessary.
About 20,000 students have not graduated each year solely because of the requirement.
Test supporters say it motivates schools and students to improve and has given greater validity to a high school diploma.
San Francisco high school Principal Patricia Gray said suspending the exit exam graduation requirement would be "a tragic mistake," adding that it has pushed students to take learning seriously.
She said despite budget cuts, teachers, administrators and students will simply have to work harder.
"If you're going to say, 'We're just not going to teach as well and the kids are going to come out less proficient,' that's not an option for me," said Gray, of Balboa High School. "It's not an option."
Chronicle staff writer Wyatt Buchanan contributed to this report. E-mail Jill Tucker at email@example.com.