Emergency legislation considered for exit exams

What happens when a state cancels a test required for high school graduation but forgets to change the law that requires students to pass it?


First period at a California high school when remaining students were taking the CAHSEE (Thad Smith / Flickr)

Thousands of high school seniors in California, who had met all the other graduation requirements, found out exactly what happens last month after the state canceled the CAHSEE and denied them their diplomas, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

The California High School Exit Exam, or CAHSEE, is considered obsolete by many educators because it is based on standards that are no longer used by the state’s teachers. It came under fire as soon as it was given more than a decade ago due to the difficulty English language learners and students living in poverty had in passing it.

Students can take the test as early as 10th grade, and if they don’t pass it, again twice in 11th grade and up to five times during their senior year until they pass it.

The legislature moved to cancel the state’s contract with the test designer, Educational Testing Service, saving about $11 million a year by not giving an outdated test. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, lawmakers forgot to cancel the law that made passing the test a graduation requirement.

That left thousands of students across the state—more than 200 in San Francisco and more than 100 in Oakland—in a state of chaos. They had met all the other requirements for graduation and had planned to take the CAHSEE in July, but they simply couldn’t, because the test wasn’t administered in July.

Although nobody thinks the test is up-to-date, some educators said the exit exam had some value in that it helped kids prepare to take standardized tests, like those required for college admission, if they were having trouble taking such exams.

The San Francisco Unified School District decided to “go rogue” and grant students who hadn’t passed the test their diplomas anyway. They held a graduation ceremony for about a hundred students, an exercise that brought hugs and tears all around.

Oakland Unified, on the other hand, fearing possible financial penalties, decided not to go around the law and wait for the state to pass what would be emergency legislation.

Even if such emergency legislation were to lift the graduation requirement, as it clearly needs to do here, it’ll take about a week to get the bill to Gov Jerry Brown’s desk for a signature.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.