California Close to Dumping High School Exit Exam

By Catherine Gewertz — May 08, 2017 1 min read
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California appears to be on the brink of eliminating its high school exit exam.

Last week, on a 56-17 vote, the state Assembly approved Assembly Bill 830, which eliminates the California High School Exit Examination as a graduation requirement. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Known as CAHSEE, the test has been the target of increasing criticism in recent years as the state moved toward a system of judging schools and students that puts less emphasis on a single test.

The language of AB 830 reflects that shift. The state’s new accountability system promotes college and career readiness, the bill says, and provides “resources to allow the identification of pupils in academic need in lower grades. This paradigm shift moves us away from using a single test, like the CAHSEE, for making high-stakes decisions.”

If approved, AB 830 will make permanent a change the legislature already enshrined in law in 2015. By approving Senate Bill 172, lawmakers dropped the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement for the high school classes of 2016, 2017, and 2018. They directed school districts to award diplomas to any student who graduated after 2004 and fulfilled all requirements except passing the CAHSEE. The law also set up an advisory committee to make recommendations about the future of CAHSEE, or a replacement exit exam.

In August 2015, California lawmakers scrambled to pass emergency legislation that conferred diplomas on some members of the class of 2015. Those students hadn’t yet passed the CAHSEE. They had one last chance: a summer test date. But the state allowed its contract with the assessment vendor to lapse, confident that the earlier legislation to end the CAHSEE would pass.

But it didn’t. So students in the class of 2015 who had counted on the summer test date were stuck. The emergency law let those students get their diplomas without having taken CAHSEE.

The earlier law, Senate Bill 172, which let thousands of students who’d failed the CAHSEE since 2004 graduate anyway, eventually did pass, and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015.

In the wake of those fiascos, the exit-exam advisory committee recommended in September 2016 that the state drop exit exams altogether.

(Education Week found that at least six other states started conferring diplomas on students who hadn’t passed their required exit exams, too.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.