Raising the Stakes

By Denise Kersten Wills — August 11, 2006 2 min read

Like more than 40,000 other students in California—about 10 percent of the class of 2006—Raul Navarro did not pass the state’s high school exit exam in time for graduation. But Raul, whose family moved from Mexico to the San Diego area three years ago, is determined to earn a diploma. “I really have to pass,” he says. “It’s very necessary for me to help my family.”

Growth Factor

That’s why Raul spent four mornings in late July reviewing test strategies with a Princeton Review tutor hired by San Diego City Schools to help students who have fallen just shy of passing the exam on earlier attempts. “What we have to instill in them is the confidence they can do this,” says Jake Schiff, Raul’s tutor.

The test, which became a graduation requirement for the first time this past spring, affected disproportionate numbers of Hispanics, African Americans, poor students, and students learning English. A legal battle ensued, but seniors who were counting on judicial intervention got bad news in late May: The state Supreme Court, staying a lower court decision, let the failing scores stand. Although an appeals court is reviewing the case, graduation day has come and gone.

Roughly half of the students who failed the exam had completed all other graduation requirements, according to estimates from the state department of education. For the others, the test became just one more hurdle to finishing high school.

“If a student has not passed,” says Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for California superintendent Jack O’Connell, “that simply means that student’s education is not complete.” In addition to trying again in July, students could enroll in summer school, adult school, a fifth year of high school, or community college.

But no one knows how many of the seniors who failed the test will, like Raul, continue to work toward a diploma, and how many will simply give up. Districts are still collecting data, and the state department of education is developing a system to track students.

“The concern is, you’re going to have higher dropout rates,” says Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based nonprofit. “The hope is that kids will apply themselves more and academic rigor will increase. We think the judgment is out on both counts.”

One thing, however, seems clear: Exit exams are poised to become more widespread. In 2005, half of public school students lived in the 19 states with exit exams, according to the CEP. By 2012, it projects that proportion will jump to more than 70 percent, as 25 states make the tests a graduation requirement. Driving the trend are calls from business leaders and politicians for high school diplomas that guarantee at least basic reading and math skills.

As for Raul, he sounds confident. “I’m sure I will pass this test,” he says, “and my diploma is going to help me open new opportunities.”

Related Tags:


Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
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.
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Washington Data Processing Representative - (WAVA)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Proposal Writer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

Assessment Biden's Testing Stance Leaves States Tough Choices. Some May Still Try to Avoid Exams
Whether to give tests in person this spring or even test students next school year instead, education leaders confront a complex path.
Flags decorate a space outside the secretary's office at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington.
Flags decorate a space outside the secretary's office at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Assessment States Still Must Give Standardized Tests This Year, Biden Administration Announces
But the administration says it would allow states to give tests in the summer or use partial exams due to challenges related to COVID-19.
3 min read
Image of students taking a test.
Assessment Timing of Food Stamps Can Affect Students' Test Scores, Study Finds
Hungry students don't test as well, say researchers who found a link between food stamp disbursements and students' exam scores.
5 min read
A sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer's market in Topsham, Maine on March 17, 2017.
Food stamps can be used in some farmers' markets, as at this one in Topsham, Maine. New research shows a link between timing of the aid and student performance on key tests.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Assessment New Mexico Asks to Skip Student Testing Again This Year
State officials are seeking permission from federal officials to waive standardized testing for another year, citing the pandemic.
3 min read