Although 93.3 percent of California students now pass the exit exam by spring of their senior year, Democratic legislators, the California Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association and the California Federation of Teachers want an alternative.
“This bill really is about a higher and richer standard,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, a Santa Monica Democrat who said her Assembly Bill 1379 is designed to complement the exit exam — not eliminate it.
The hardest questions on the exam ask for 10th-grade reading and eighth-grade math skills; students need a 60 percent in language arts and a 55 percent in math to pass. It’s a four-option multiple-choice test. Students can take it six times, starting in sophomore year. Most eventually pass the reading test but continue to struggle with the math, even though mastery of elementary math and guessing on harder questions should generate a 55 percent. What “higher and richer standard” could these students meet? What standard would they meet if they knew they could get a diploma by an easier route?
Not all students necessarily receive equal learning opportunities with qualified teachers and adequate support systems, so it’s unfair to use a single test to deny diplomas, said Liz Guillen of Public Advocates, a civil rights law firm.
I think it’s unfair to give them diplomas and send them out in the world without basic literacy and math skills. But it’s a lot easier to base a diploma on inflated grades, projects or “coursework portfolios” than to get low achievers caught up. Students who can’t pass the exit exam on repeated tries will not be able to pass “alternative tests that are aligned to state content standards and as rigorous as the exit exam.” They don’t have the skills.
The governor vetoed a similar bill last year; he’ll almost certainly veto this one.