August 23, 2012
Written by: Jill Tucker
The vast majority of the class of 2012 - 95 percent of the state's 450,000 seniors - passed the California High School Exit Exam by graduation day, an all-time-high pass rate, according to results released Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, state education officials celebrated the news, noting steady improvement from the 90 percent pass rate in 2006, the first year students were required to pass the math and English test in order to graduate.
"When 95 percent of California students are hitting the mark - despite the tremendous challenges we face and the work we still have to do - there's an awful lot going right in our public schools," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
Yet critics of the Exit Exam have long questioned whether passing the test is anything to celebrate.
The exam, which was adopted by the Legislature in 1999, tests students on eighth- or ninth-grade math and 10th-grade English skills. Students are first required to take the exam in their sophomore year and have several chances to pass it.
Over the years, the state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars administering the test as well as providing remediation, tutoring and test preparation to ensure students who graduate meet minimum standards.
And yet the Exit Exam isn't much of a gatekeeper. Relatively few students who didn't pass would have graduated anyway because they didn't finish required coursework.
In San Francisco, for example, 109 of the district's 4,058 high school seniors were denied a diploma in the spring solely because they had not passed the Exit Exam.
And those students were eligible to take the test again after their senior year. Those results were not available.
In other words, the Exit Exam is costly, measures early high school skills on a multiple-choice test, and the vast majority of students pass it.
Is it worth the time, energy and money?