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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

California High School Exit Exam Reinstated

The California Supreme Court today reinstated the state's high school exit exam one week after a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the test that students need to pass to graduate.

The high court granted a request by the state education department to lift the injunction and referred the case to the state appellate court for further action.

With graduation ceremonies fast approaching at many schools, it is not immediately clear how the Supreme Court's decision today affects the thousands of high school seniors who have failed the exam and would have been prevented from receiving their diplomas.

On May 12, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman issued a preliminary injunction against the mandatory testing requirement, ruling that it places an unfair burden on poor and minority students who attend low-performing schools.

The decision threw into question the fate of many of the 46,700 seniors statewide -- roughly 1 in 10 -- who have failed the two-part test. This year's 12th-graders were the first class to face the testing requirement, which includes a section on eighth-grade math and another on ninth- and 10th-grade English. Students are required to answer little more than half the questions correctly and can take the test multiple times. Students with learning disabilities are exempted from the test.

Originally slated for students in the class of 2004, the test was postponed for two years because of low passing rates. In January, State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who wrote the legislation mandating the exam in 1999, rejected calls from civil rights groups and others to consider alternatives to the test.

The challenge to the exit exam was filed by attorney Arturo Gonzalez on behalf of a group of students and their parents.

In issuing the injunction, Freedman said he was swayed by Gonzalez's argument that many impoverished and minority students -- particularly those learning English as a second language -- attend low-performing schools that do not prepare them for the test.

Of the 46,700 seniors who have failed the test, 20,600 are designated as limited English learners and 28,300 are poor.

Limited English learners need to get out of the "language ghettoes" in which English is rarely heard nor seen. The learning of any language is best achieved through immersion over an extended period.


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