Calif. Law Brings Remediation to Exit Exams (Updated)
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Oct. 12 Assembly Bill 347, amending existing portions of the state's Education Code covering high school exit examinations. The new law addresses, among other things, the issue of remediation for students who are unable to pass the English and/or math portions of the exams. There are presently some 65,000 students in California from the classes of 2006 and 2007 who have met all other requirements for graduation but have not yet passed the exit exam, according to law firm Morrison & Foerster, which challenged the exit exam requirement in court last year.
In Valenzuela v. O'Connell, brought by Morrison & Foerster on behalf of plaintiff Liliana Valenzuela in 2006, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled against maintaining the California High School Exit Exam (CAHEE) as a condition of graduation and issued a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the withholding of diplomas from students who had otherwise completed the requirements for graduation in the class of 2006. In August 2007, a Court of Appeals ruling "vacated" the injunction but "held that the proper remedy [for the apparent educational inequity in the testing] was to provide additional instruction to the students who had not passed the test," according to Arturo González, lead counsel representing the plaintiffs in the case.
"At issue here is whether we are providing students across the state a fair opportunity to pass an exam which will dramatically impact their future opportunities," González told THE Journal. "Latino, African-American, and English learner students have been adversely and disproportionately impacted by the exit exam requirement. This follows from the fact that these students are more likely to be in schools lacking adequate resources and fully qualified teachers, which are key to an adequate opportunity to learn the test material."
The new law attempts to solve the issue by providing for up to two years of intensive remediation for students who fail to pass either portion of the exit exam after 12th grade. In addition to extending remediation to two years after 12th grade, the law also provides for:
- Student assessments to identify areas of need;
- Assessments of deficiencies in schools' instructional materials;
- Additional reporting requirements;
- Options for continuing education through community college, adult education programs, intensive remediation courses for up to two years, and continued enrollment at the student's school district;
- Local programs to ensure that students are aware of their options and that they are being served adequately, as well as a formal complaint mechanism for parents and students; and
- Funding for additional costs associated with the provisions of the law.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell at the time of the preliminary injunction defended the exit exams in a public statement: "The lower court may have intended to benefit those students, but the effect of [the] decision was to eliminate the one mechanism California had in place to make certain students graduate with essential skills."
However, González told THE Journal, "California schools have at their disposal the most important, and time-honored, way of making sure students graduate with essential skills, which is to teach students those skills in class, and then only pass the students who can demonstrate proficiency in those skills. California's decision to use an exit exam, while not providing equal access to an adequate K-12 education, places the burden of fixing our schools' deficiencies on the students. Moreover, there are numerous other standardized tests that students receive throughout their education that can be used to gauge their performance. Depriving a student of a diploma when he or she has passed other requisite courses will not benefit anyone. Universities and employers recognize the limited value of the exit exam and do not place any emphasis at all on the results of that test. Neither universities nor employers ask, 'How well did you do on the exit exam?'"
The new remediation program should help struggling learners overcome the exit exam hurdle, González indicated, but it will not solve all the problems that low-income and ELL students face.
How significant a hurdle is the CAHEE? Roughly 90 percent of students do pass the exam, but there remain about 34,000 students from the class of 2006 and 29,000 from the class of 2007 in California who have not passed it. Additionally, according to Morrison & Foerster, there remain 61,000 students in grade 12 presently who have not yet passed the English portion and 56,000 who have not yet passed the math portion of the exam. (Students begin taking the test in 10th grade.)
Said González, "A 2005 report by the State's independent evaluator found that not all schools were covering the exit exam material, and most significantly, that many of the schools did not cover the materials during the years in which the Class of 2006 would have been taught them. English learners also may not be taught all of the materials because [ELL curricula do not] cover all of the exit exam skills."
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