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Published in Print: August 6, 2003, as California Delays Mandatory Graduation Exam Until 2006

California Delays Mandatory Graduation Exam Until 2006

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The California state school board has voted unanimously to delay its mandatory high school exit exam. Students still have not had enough time to learn the subject matter on the test, the board said.

The move means that students in the class of 2006, instead of the class of 2004, will be the first in California who must pass the exam in order to graduate.

State leaders and education groups widely supported the move. The legislature was also considering a separate measure to delay the exam.

An internal evaluation of the test last year by the state education department found that many students had not been taught some of the test's fundamental components, such as algebra. In addition, the evaluation found that more than 20 percent of students, particularly those with disabilities or limited English skills, would not have passed the test and so would not have received their diplomas next year.

State officials predict that, within two years, the younger students will have had the chance to learn the skills for the exam.

Many states have reconsidered or delayed implementation of high-stakes tests as a graduation requirement. Most recently, Massachusetts lawmakers announced they will create a proposal this fall that would exempt some students with disabilities from their controversial graduation exam.

Not Much Change?

State board President Reed Hastings, in a statement shortly after the July 9 vote, said that schools would continue to administer the examthe California High School Exit Examand that preliminary results that did not count toward the state graduation requirements had shown a marked improvement in standards-based instruction.

He emphasized that state law would prevent the board from further delaying the exam.

"The exit exam is here to stay," Mr. Hastings said. "It will remain in place as an important gauge of student achievement and as a means of identifying and eradicating educational disparities."

In a separate statement, Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, added: "The board's decision today should not give schools or students a signal that it is time to let up, slow down, or ease off. On the contrary, it shows the need to redouble efforts to help students succeed."

But Michael W. Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University, predicted that most of the same issues that delayed the test for 2004 would still be widespread in two years.

Further, he added, many of the tests' opponents will argue that the state's ongoing budget cuts will adversely affect student learning and access to classes—and the test may not withstand lawsuits.

"Nothing's going to change much by 2006," Mr. Kirst said.

The state exam is typically given in 10th grade, and students who do not pass it on the first try have several other opportunities.

In addition, the state board voted to reduce the essays required on the English/language arts portion of the exam from two to one, thus lowering the number of days needed to take the test from three to two.

Vol. 22, Issue 43, Page 26

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