More Than Half of California 9th Graders Flunk Exit Exam

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 20, 2001 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A low passing score was not enough to help most of California’s 9th graders make the grade on the state’s first high school exit exam.

Results released this month show that fewer than 45 percent of the students who volunteered to take the test this past March were able to reach the minimum score of 60 percent in reading and 55 percent in mathematics. Even more troubling, state education officials said, about three out of four of the African-American and Hispanic students who took the test failed.

“The results are sobering,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said in a statement. “The reality is that some of our schools are not adequately preparing all students with the coursework and material required to pass the [state test]. The data show that we have a great deal of work to do, especially with our low-performing schools.”

Beginning with the class of 2004, students will have to pass the exit exam to graduate from high school. In the future, the test will first be given to 10th graders. Those who flunk will have opportunities to retake the test.

Nearly 400,000 students, or 81 percent of the state’s 9th graders, volunteered to take the exam, a multiple-choice and essay assessment created to align with California’s standards. Those who passed will not have to retake it.

The state board of education overrode a commission’s recommendation and followed Ms. Eastin’s counsel to set passing scores at 60 percent for the English portion of the test and 55 percent for mathematics. She argued that due to the rigor of the exam, the passing rate should be set lower and gradually raised.About three-fourths of the students would have failed math if the higher cutoff had been used.

While the results were disappointing, state officials said they expected a slow start because more rigorous standards in the subjects are still being phased in. In math, for example, students were tested on their knowledge of algebra, geometry, and probability and statistics. But many districts and schools throughout California do not yet have textbooks aligned to those higher standards, and many teachers have not been trained to teach the new subject matter, according to Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, a Democrat.

“I don’t think that we’re really surprised with the results, because we knew from the outset some of the material on the exit exam has not yet been taught to some of our kids in some of our schools,” said Ms. Strom-Martin, who chairs the education committee in the Assembly, the legislature’s lower house. “What it does show us is we still have a lot of work to do.”

Changing the Rules?

But other lawmakers said state education officials were trying to gloss over the extent of the problems in California’s schools by lowering the bar for students.

“It is most disturbing to me that the only way we can get 40 percent of our kids to pass is to change a failing grade to a passing grade,” said Sen. Raymond N. Haynes, a Republican. “This to me is outrageous. The whole purpose for having an accountability system, for having testing, is to see whether or not the adults are doing their job. And the adults look bad, so they change the rules.”

A panel of teachers, administrators, parents, and community members originally proposed a passing score of 70 percent for both English and math.

Margaret DeArmond, a math resource teacher in the Kern County district in Bakersfield, Calif., sat on that panel. In hindsight, she said, the lower cutoff scores were more realistic. “A lot of our students haven’t had this rich mathematics instruction that we’re aiming for. There were some hefty test items on that test.”

A bill currently under consideration in the legislature calls for an independent study of the exam to ensure it is aligned appropriately with state academic standards and for extending the date by which students must pass the test to graduate.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2001 edition of Education Week as More Than Half of California 9th Graders Flunk Exit Exam


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Mathematics Letter to the Editor Students Need Math Fact Fluency
Math fact fluency is a timely issue, writes this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Mathematics Students See Value in Math Class. But Many Also Find It Boring
A new survey of nearly 90,000 high school students demonstrates American teenagers’ deep ambivalence about how math is taught in schools.
5 min read
 Concept of math problem with a  pencil with broken point.
Mathematics Opinion Students' Math Outcomes Have Plummeted. Here's What to Do
Implementing a set of interconnected strategies can help students improve their mastery of math.
Tracy Fray-Oliver
4 min read
Screen Shot 2023 12 15 at 7.32.20 AM
Mathematics Video How Math Instruction Evolved in 2023, and What's Ahead
EdWeek's Stephen Sawchuk examines the changes in math policy and practice in 2023, and anticipates what's ahead for the new year.
1 min read
Whittier Elementary School teacher Kayla Cowen interacts with students, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Mesa, Ariz.
Whittier Elementary School teacher Kayla Cowen interacts with students, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 in Mesa, Ariz.
Matt York/AP