Children and Youth

Gov. signs bill exempting 2015 high school graduates who failed exit exam

Ruling affects two 2015 SBHS grads; future of exit exam as graduation requirement remains uncertain

Thousands of 2015 high school graduates who met all their school requirements for graduation, but did not pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), received a reprieve Aug. 26, when Gov.Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that exempts them from having to take the exam.

While only two San Benito High School graduates failed to pass the exit exam, they were still under pressure to take and pass it once they left high school or they might never receive a diploma. BenitoLink calls regarding Anzar High graduates' situation were not returned by publication time.

“The exam is offered a couple times a year,” said Erika Hoffman, an advocate with the California School Board Association. “The final offering for this year for the class of 2015 would have been in July. When the Department of Education didn’t renew the contract, that meant the test wouldn’t be offered in July going forward. Those students, through no fault of their own, who completed everything else they needed to do, wouldn’t get a diploma.”

Gov. Brown signed SB 725, by Loni Hancock, to exempt those graduates, and with the passage of this legislation school district leaders should be prepared to immediately issue diplomas to students who have met the necessary requirements for graduation in 2015, but have not passed the CAHSEE stated a press release.

In May, the California Department of Education (CDE) opted not to renew the contract for administration of the CAHSEE.

“Now there’s another piece of legislation that just came out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee yesterday, SB 172, by Sen. Carol Liu, that would suspend the exit exam until 2018,” Hoffman said. “The current exam that we have goes back 15 years. It’s extremely out of date with current standards that students are being taught.”

Hoffman explained that SB 172 would put together a working group of teachers, school administrators, and those with interest in the subject, to come up with recommendations that would then go to the Legislature.

According to Hoffman, the CSBA-supported bill currently moving through the Legislature would suspend administration of the CAHSEE through the 2017-18 school year and remove the test as a graduation requirement for students graduating in that timeframe, while recommendations on the continuation of an exit exam requirement or an alternative pathway are being developed to be presented to the State Board of Education and then the Legislature.

“I think everybody believes there needs to be some sort of determining baseline level that kids are able to accomplish when they graduate from high school,” she said. “Which was the original thought behind the exam. The fact that it’s out of date with what kids are currently learning and we’ve got a whole new assessment system we’re putting in now, maybe those would be a better determinant, as those are more of a progressive exam for students.”

Part of the discussion that needs to take place, according to Hoffman, is to determine how to better serve the students possibly without an exit exam.

“It’s a very large policy discussion we need to have as we look at the whole issue of testing students and what is appropriate,” she said..

In the class of 2015 about 5,000 throughout the state did not pass the exit exam.

“So, if you enlisted in the military or you’ve been accepted at a four-year college, if you don’t get your diploma you don’t get a graduation date, and both of those require a graduation date,” Hoffman said. “You continue to take the test. At least for a couple of years. At that point, it’s one of those questions. Do you end up not having a high school diploma? We have students who would come back through other avenues for a diploma. Slowly but surely they would pass it. But if the test isn’t being offered there’s no recourse.”

The very future of the exit exam is in question, according to Todd Dearden, SBHS principal.

“It’s based off of the California Content Standards, and we now have what’s called Common Core Standards, so it’s not assessing what we teach,” he said. “The CCS was the old set of standards. The Common Core is a new set of things that students are expected to learn and if there’s an assessment to determine if they learned them in order to graduate. I don’t have a problem with that. I think that’s appropriate, but the assessment needs to assess what we want them to learn not what we used to want them to learn.”

Dearden said the expectations are significantly different than what they used to be.

“Until yesterday (when Brown signed the bill) you had to meet all the graduation requirements set forth by the school board and you had to pass two tests in English and math that is given by the state. You still have to do that for this year until the state suspends that and they haven’t done that yet.”

Late in the afternoon of Aug. 28, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson urged all local educational agencies throughout the state to immediately begin issuing diplomas to those students caught up in the Catch-22 of needing to take an exam that has been canceled by the very agency that requires them to do so.

“This is a key part of the legislation the California Department of Education sponsored back in February to assure students would still get their high school diplomas and thus be assured of their admission to our four-year universities would not be impeded,” Torlakson said in the release.

In a letter to county and district superintendents, charter school administrators, and CAHSEE coordinators, Torlakson wrote, “Local educational agencies may immediately begin issuing diplomas to eligible students.”

“Getting these students their diplomas as soon as possible will clear up any doubts regarding whether they qualify for employment or college,” he said.

Torlakson is sponsoring Senate Bill 172. CDE is closely monitoring that legislation. Its passage would give the state “the opportunity to develop and examine recommendations for approaches to productive graduation policies that keep California moving toward higher standards for college and career readiness and higher graduation rates,” Torlakson wrote in his letter.  

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]