Exit Exam Suspension Goes
to Governor for Signature

Sep 29th, 2015 | By | Category: Advocacy, News
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Jeff Frost


—For several months the legislature has been working on whether to suspend the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) while the state determines whether to change the requirements, making them more compatible with our Common Core State Standards, use multiple measures as a replacement for the current CAHSEE, or eliminate an exit exam as a requirement altogether.

SB 172 (Carol Liu, D-La Cañada) was introduced in early 2015 and was moving through the legislative process with significant support although all Republican members had been opposed to the suspension, arguing that it would diminish our current accountability requirements. However, earlier this summer, the superintendent of Public Instruction approved the elimination of the July offering of the CAHSEE, which was the last opportunity for those students who had not previously passed the exam but otherwise had all of the requirements to graduate in 2015.

The fallout from this test cancellation was a great concern to school districts that had students counting on being able to take the CAHSEE last month. The San Francisco Unified School District Board held an emergency meeting on Friday night of August 14. The board approved a resolution removing the CAHSEE from its graduation requirements and then awarded diplomas to a number of students who had passed all of the other graduation requirements. At least one of those students had been accepted into a four-year college.

When the San Francisco Chronicle, which was reporting on this story, sought a comment from the California Department of Education (CDE), Keric Ashley, the deputy superintendent at the CDE, stated that “our hope is that the few students who find themselves in this situation will only have to defer their dreams of attending the college of their choice for one semester. In the meantime, there are other options available to these students, including our California community colleges. I received excellent preparation at my local community college before attending a university.”

The reaction to the CDE statement was swift. The Governor’s Office released a statement that said, “Students who have been accepted into college should not be prevented from starting class this fall because of a test cancellation they could not control. The Administration is working with the Legislature to resolve the problem and ensure these students begin their college careers.” The legislative leaders also commented that students should not be disadvantaged by the actions of state agencies.

By Monday, August 17, the legislature was considering actions that would get an urgency bill to the governor within the week. SB 725, being carried by Senator Loni Hancock (D, Berkeley), was amended to grant a waiver from the CAHSEE requirement for those students from the class of 2015. This bill passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 26 and the Assembly floor the next day. On Monday, August 24, the full Senate approved the bill unanimously and sent it on to the governor for action. By Tuesday, August 25, the Governor’s Office notified the press that the governor would be signing the bill shortly.

So where does this leave the CAHSEE moving forward? SB 172, the bill to suspend the CAHSEE for two additional years, is still in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. So far, Republican members still oppose a multiyear suspension and the 2015-2016 State Budget contains language that would require the superintendent of Public Instruction to renew the CAHSEE contract if a multiyear suspension is not signed into law. At this point, it is not clear how the governor will respond to SB 172.

While it is appropriate for California to ensure academic accountability, it is certainly debatable whether real accountability can be achieved by requiring the passage of an exam that has no relevance to our new Common Core standards. Additionally, the CAHSEE is a problematic “high-stakes” exam for those immigrant students who have not had enough time with English to master the exam but who are otherwise academically proficient. The legislature, State Board of Education, and the governor still have real work do on this key issue. We will continue to monitor it and keep you informed.

Jeff Frost is CATESOL’s legislative advocate in California.


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