Sunday, September 20, 2009

Nearly 1 in 10 in California's class of 2009 did not pass high school exit exam

The percentage was little changed from last year but still showed important progress, state superintendent of public instruction Jack O'Connell says.

The exit exam achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted in this year's results. (Paul Sakuma / Associated Press / September 2, 2009)

By Seema Mehta | LA Times
September 3, 2009

Nearly one in 10 students in the class of 2009 did not pass the state's high school exit exam, which is required to receive a diploma. The results, released Wednesday, were nearly stagnant compared with the previous year.

By the end of their senior year, 90.6% of students in the graduating class had passed the two-part exam, compared with 90.4% in the class of 2008.

"These gains are incremental, but they are in fact significant and they are a true testimony to the tremendous work being done by our professional educators . . . as well as our students," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, whose office released the data.

Beginning in their sophomore year, students have several chances to take the exit exam. A score of at least 55% on the math portion, which is geared to an eighth-grade level, and 60% on the English portion, which is ninth- or 10th-grade level, is required.

The achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted. More than 95% of Asian students and nearly 96% of white students passed the exam by the end of their senior year, compared with nearly 87% of Latino students and more than 81% of black students. But the data did show the size of the gap narrowing. English-language learners and lower-income students also lagged but have made notable gains since the exam was first required.

Critics say education officials must take stronger action to close the gap, noting that nearly 78% of the more than 45,000 students in the class of 2009 who have not passed the exam are Latino or black.

"Let us be clear: These failures do not result from students' demographics, innate ability or lack thereof, but rather serve as an indictment of our public school system," said Linda Murray, acting executive director for the Education Trust--West, an Oakland-based nonprofit advocacy group.

"It is no longer good enough to simply acknowledge the achievement gap exists. These data reveal that state leaders must actually get about the business of doing something about it or run the risk of watching yet another generation of our students be failed by our educational system."

Los Angeles Unified School District students continued to lag behind their peers statewide, with 87% of the class of 2009 passing the exam. But Supt. Ramon C. Cortines noted that the district's Latino and black students have made substantive gains over time, and the district is doing well when compared with others of similar size and demographics.

"Yes, we're an urban school system, but we're not at the bottom of the barrel and we're progressively moving up," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I attribute it to the students themselves. I think that the principals and teachers and counselors have placed an emphasis on the importance of this, and I think young people are understanding that without a high school diploma, there's not much of a future."

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