Next year’s GHS graduating class will have to pass exit exam
Gilroy – As high school seniors across the state prepare for graduation, many will accept their diplomas by flying under the radar of the California High School Exit Exam.
Originally, the CAHSEE was designed to go into effect for the class of 2004, but the date was pushed back to 2006 by the state’s board of education after 40 percent of would–be seniors failed the exam.
“They were kind of the off the hook class … They didn’t have it hanging over their heads,” said Gilroy High School Principal Bob Bravo.
Next year’s seniors will be the first class required to pass the CAHSEE. However, new legislature by Los Angeles representatives Senator Gloria Romero and Assembly Member Karen Bass proposes to push the date back indefinitely, but local education officials and the state superintendent disagree.
“I am totally against pushing it back,” said John Perales, principal of Mount Madonna High School. “With the high school exit exam it creates accountability for the students and the staff.”
Perales also felt the CAHSEE helps establish a coherent curriculum.
“It creates a baseline level of learning,” he explained.
The CAHSEE was developed in 1999 in order to ensure that all graduating seniors demonstrate grade-level competency in both English language arts and mathematics.
But the tests actually measure ninth and tenth grade standards.
Students begin testing their sophomore year where they have one chance to pass. Should they fail, students can test two times as juniors and three more times as seniors during the school year.
As a last chance opportunity, seniors can retake the tests in the summer before they must repeat the year.
Students can pass the mathematics and ELA sections independently of each other and only retake the section they failed.
In 2001, when the state first tested students, 35 percent of students in the Gilroy Unified School District passed the math section and 60 percent passed the ELA section. Countywide, 58 percent passed the math and 72 percent passed the ELA, and statewide, 44 percent of students passed the math and 64 percent passed the ELA section.
Data is unavailable for the current senior classes at GHS and Mt. Madonna because neither was required to take the CAHSEE.
However, out of this year’s GHS junior class, 76 percent passed the ELA section and 68 percent passed math.
While 90 students have not passed ELA, 30 of those students are special education and designated as not diploma students, Bravo said.
Thirty–seven are English Language Learners and only 23 are considered mainstream students.
According to Bravo, many of the students who did not pass one section did not pass the other. The breakdown of those who failed the math section is similar: Twenty–seven are mainstream students and about 30 are special education students.
“The kids that haven’t passed are being told they have to take summer classes,” Bravo said.
Some classes will be specially designed for passing the CAHSEE this summer and others will be offered during the school year.
“I think the tough thing is for the students who missed it by a couple of points,” Bravo said. Students who missed passing by one or two points may not feel they need to attend summer school, he explained.
Perales estimated that 10 percent of the junior class still needs to pass the CAHSEE.
Neither principal believes pushing the date back farther will benefit students in the long run.
“When it was (supposed to count) in 2004, students said to me, ‘It’s not about taking a test – it’s about learning,’ and to me, that says a lot,” Perales said.
State Superintendent Jack O’Connell released a statement last week supporting the 2006 effective date.
“I have opposed legislation that would undermine high school reform by delaying or weakening the high school exit exam,” he said. “It is critical that a high school diploma means a clear level of achievement.”
Because the test was pushed back once in 2003 to 2006, students may not take the exam or their schooling as seriously if they don’t see it ever counting.
“I do think it would be hard for kids to get motivated by it,” Bravo said. “It could be a demotivator for kids.”
While Bravo did not support moving the effective date, he did support some form of alternatives for special education students or extending the chances ELL students have.
“But for the mainstream student I think they can do it,” he said.