High school exit exam the true test

According to data on the Gilroy Unified School District Web site
(http://www.gusd.k12.ca.us), Gilroy schools are on the upswing in
terms of test performance.
According to data on the Gilroy Unified School District Web site (http://www.gusd.k12.ca.us), Gilroy schools are on the upswing in terms of test performance. A district press release notes that Stanford Achievement Test (SAT-9) reading results for grades 2-10 are climbing (using the 2000 year as a baseline), and the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) growth report data for 2001-2002 indicates that most schools in the Gilroy district are meeting their growth targets.

While the modest gains the district is making are commendable, a key statistic has been overlooked: the data from the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). That exam is the ultimate benchmark for measuring whether a school district is meeting the needs of its students. In terms of testing statistics and academic performance, the CAHSEE test results have the most significance in the overall picture because the test measures the performance of all students and does not differentiate for socio-economic background.

The high school exit exam is a practical assessment of basic English and math skills, with emphasis on the word “basic.”

Our students, unfortunately, are not doing well at the basics. The ability of Gilroy High School students to grasp basic math and language skills is abysmally low, much lower than that of students in Santa Clara County overall.

In 2001, only 24 percent of Gilroy students taking the math portion of the CAHSEE were able to pass. By comparison, countywide 43 percent passed. Only 42 percent of Gilroy students taking the English portion of the CAHSEE were able to pass. By comparison, 64 percent passed countywide.

The CAHSEE is the ultimate measurement of the effectiveness of the local school system in preparing students for life. The real-life parallels are unavoidable. Communities whose graduating seniors score well on the CAHSEE tests have a lower dropout rate, less gang activity, more kids entering into the workforce and more people contributing positively to the community.

While raising SAT-9 test scores has been garnering the most attention from the media, the state and the community, the CAHSEE test looms. This year’s juniors at Gilroy High School will have to pass the test in 2004 to receive a high school diploma.

Ironically, the spotlight for the past year has been on the reinstatement of honors-level courses and the passing of Advanced Placement tests at Gilroy High. It’s important, of course, to graduate a higher percentage of seniors who will continue their education after college.

But let’s be realistic. The objective of raising CAHSEE test performance is to ensure that the entire student population has the basic skills needed to succeed. Where Gilroy High School students are right now is scary. When the district can report significant gains in CAHSEE test scores then we will know, at last, that the quality of a public school education in Gilroy is truly on the upswing.

What we know now is that there’s a lot of work to be done.

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