Judge Rejects California High School Exit Exam
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, the power of speech begets hope and hope begets Whoopi. But first, more seniors than ever may be graduating from high schools in California in the coming weeks. A Superior Court judge there has suspended the state's high school exit exam. The ruling affects more than a thousand high schools. It calls the exam an unfair requirement for a diploma. As NPR's Elaine Korry reports, nearly 47,000 seniors who failed the test may be off the hook.
ELAINE KORRY reporting:
Nearly 50 seniors at Mission High School in San Francisco faced not graduating next month because they hadn't passed this test of basic math and English skills. Eighteen-year-old Junior Cabrera(ph), who took the test four times, celebrated his last-minute reprieve.
Mr. JUNIOR CABRERA (High School Student): All right. So that's great. So I can graduate now, because I was stressed because the test, and now I'm happy because we don't have to take it anymore. So that's good.
KORRY: Cabrera has a B-plus in math this year, but he said he gets nervous taking tests. Other seniors, including many like Michelle Lim(ph), who passed the exit exam, say it's unfair to withhold a diploma from students such as Cabrera because of one test.
MICHELLE LIM (High School Student): Some people don't do good on tests. Personally, I don't, and it's like I was happy that I passed mine, but I mean, it should be based on, like, you know, getting good grades and stuff, working really hard for all four years, not just one test to determine if you're going to graduate.
KORRY: Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman issued an injunction yesterday afternoon ruling the exit exam discriminates against English-language learners and the state's poorest students. Lawyer Arturo Gonzalez(ph), who represents a group of seniors and their parents, sued the state. He presented evidence that as a group, poor and minority students do not receive the same quality of education as more affluent kids. Gonzalez says that's unconstitutional.
Mr. ARTURO GONZALEZ (Lawyer): The judge gets it. I mean, he understands that there are many kids in California who have not been taught the material on this test. There are many other kids who are being taught by teachers who are not qualified to teach the material. We need to fix that problem before you start penalizing kids by stripping them of their diploma.
KORRY: But Jack O'Connell, California's Superintendent of Public Instruction, says the exit exam is the cornerstone of school accountability. It's part of the national push to ensure high school graduates are ready for college or a job. About half the states require passing some kind of test for a diploma. Nearly 400,000 students have already passed California's test and O'Connell is convinced many of them worked harder and learned more because of it. For those reasons, he's appealing Judge Freedman's ruling.
Mr. JACK O'CONNELL (Superintendent of Public Instruction, California): I believe we're doing a disservice to students and we're setting them up for failure if we hand them a diploma and they do not have the skills necessary to become contributing members to this economy.
KORRY: Governor Schwarzenegger supports the exit exam and so do many business leaders. Jim Lanich is the President of California Business for Education Excellence. He notes that the exam tests 10th grade English and eighth-grade math.
Mr. JIM LANICH (California Business for Education Excellence, President): That's absolutely the floor of what a child and student should know at a bare minimum in order to graduate from the 12th grade at all prepared for the world of work and/or admission and success into college.
KORRY: And Lanich argues that if nearly 90 percent of California's seniors have passed the test, including poor students and English learners, the defendants ought to be held to the same standards. However, the judge's ruling means they won't be, at least not this year. Elaine Korry, NPR News San Francisco.
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