5k Californians in Class of 2015 Finally Get Their Diplomas


Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 725 this week, which finally allowed thousands of California students to move on with their lives. The signing of the law meant that students who did not take the required California high school exit exam could now graduate if all other graduation requirements had been fulfilled, writes Alexei Koseff of The Sacramento Bee.

Approximately 5,000 Class of 2015 seniors were kept from graduating when the California Department of Education canceled a final administration of the exit exam in July because its contract with the exam provider had expired. This, naturally, caused great distress to parents and their children who needed to enroll in college or the military. Legislators created this quick-fix legislation that will immediately take effect.

Earlier, the University of California and California State University announced that students would not be denied entry because of the exam cancellation.

"Students who've been accepted into college should not be prevented from starting class this fall because of a test cancellation they could not control," said Deborah Hoffman, the governor's deputy press secretary.

Jack O'Connell, a former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, wrote in a piece published by EdSource that he authored the legislation that created the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). The exam was meant to ensure that graduates had the basic knowledge and the skills they needed to be successful in the workplace and in life. It was also a tool for discovering students who were struggling.
O'Connell also believed that having the test in place would shrink the achievement gap by motivating high schools to zero in on students who were in danger of not mastering the skills the exit exam measured. The idea was to offer additional instruction and multiple opportunities to succeed to for students who struggled with the exam.

But, says O'Connell, this specific exam was meant to be temporary, having been in place since 2006. He said his office knew the state was transitioning to new state academic standards that would be changed again in the future. The current version did not align with the new standards and was not essential to the development of the new accountability system. He said the current exit exam should not be an obstacle to students who have earned their right to continue to college or careers.

Because California has switched to the Common Core State Standards, the exit exam had to be overhauled or eliminated, writes Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio. A separate bill suspends the exit exam requirement for the next two school years and creates a panel to study available options.

"I think there is purpose to an exit exam," says the bill's author, Democratic Sen. Carol Liu. "But I also think that perhaps it's another opportunity to take a look at what is really important in a high school diploma."

But Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff opposes the suspension of the exam. He says the education establishment, and especially teachers unions, avoid accountability. If schools are held accountable, then teachers will be held accountable, and "they don't like that," he said.

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