Concerned that California students have not been adequately prepared to take and pass the state’s high school exit exam, which is scheduled to become a requirement for graduation in three years, state lawmakers played tug of war last week over the timing of the test.
The Senate voted 21-13 on Feb. 20 to delay the implementation of the high- stakes test by one year, making it a requirement for students scheduled to graduate in 2005, rather than 2004. The delay was approved as one part of a larger piece of legislation that would make this year’s scheduled administration of the exam only a practice test for 9th graders, rather than an early opportunity for them to take the test and potentially fulfill the graduation requirement.
But members of the education committee of the Assembly, the legislature’s lower house, reversed the Senate-approved delay the following day, passing an amendment that would maintain the original phase-in year of 2004.
The chairwoman of the committee said the panel’s actions did not mean that its members oppose delaying the implementation of the exam, though. Instead, she explained, they favor analyzing the data from next month’s practice run before deciding on a course of action. Many California high school students have simply not had adequate exposure to algebra and other material covered on the exit exam, she added.
“Frankly, the state is going to be putting itself in the path of litigation if we don’t provide equal opportunity to learn this stuff,” said Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin. “I’m not so sure that even putting off the test date until 2005 will do it.”
Voicing similar concerns, policymakers in a growing number of states have opted to delay the start of tests tied to graduation or to students’ promotion to the next grade. (“States Adjust High-Stakes Testing Plans,” Jan. 24, 2001.)
Governor Awaits Data
California officials initially responded to concerns over student preparedness for the exit exam in December, when the state board of education voted to shorten the test by eliminating some of the more difficult algebra questions. (“Calif. Board Votes To Pare Down New Graduation Test,” Dec. 13, 2000.)
Still, Gov. Gray Davis has encouraged lawmakers to maintain the original timetable, arguing that the starting date was thoroughly debated when the legislation for the high school exam was approved in 1999 as a centerpiece of the governor’s education reform package.
But a spokeswoman for the Democratic governor did not rule out the possibility that he could revise his position on the timing of the exit exam if the results of next month’s practice administration suggest that students have not been sufficiently prepared for the test.
“It’s better for us to cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Hilary McLean, the spokeswoman for Mr. Davis. “The governor will review any information that’s pertinent to the implementation of the exam, but I don’t want to guess at what the data will show and what the governor’s reaction will be.”
Secretary of Education Kerry Mazzoni, who was recently appointed by Gov. Davis, further emphasized the importance of evaluating the results of the upcoming practice run.
“Too often in education, we have made decisions based on inadequate information,” Ms. Mazzoni said. “We believe we will be ready [by 2004], but we are willing to engage in a very thorough investigation of that.”
But Assemblywoman Lynne C. Leach, a Republican who serves as the vice chairwoman of the Assembly’s education committee, said legislators should hold the line on the 2004 date.
If students turn in a subpar performance on the practice exam, “it will tell us that we have to make very, very sure that by next year, those youngsters are prepared,” Ms. Leach said.
“This was passed two years ago, and we think that two years is plenty of time to prepare for it,” Ms. Leach added. “If we keep changing the rules, the general public and the educators get very upset and frustrated.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Calif. Legislature Considers Postponing Graduation Exam