Failure is not final for struggling seniors 

Almost 400 county seniors were denied the privilege of turning the tassel this year after failing to pass the state-mandated high school exit exam.

In San Mateo County, 5,106 seniors — or 93 percent of the class of 2007 — passed the exit exam before their graduation ceremonies.

However, 390 failed, according to data compiled from local school districts. Of those, 67 passed classes and earned enough credits to receive a diploma but couldn’t graduate because they failed the exit exam.

As the California High School Exit Exam emerges as a long-standing requirement for high-school graduation, education leaders are crafting a number of ways to help students pass the test — particularly those who have not done so by the end of their senior year.

The test, first instituted for the Class of 2006, requires that students pass an eighth-grade-level math section and an English-language arts portion, which tests up to a 10th-grade level of knowledge. Students are tested first as sophomores; those who fail have six more chances to pass — three as juniors and three as seniors.

A new state bill, authored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, would provide up to two years of academic help from school districts after failing to pass the exit exam by their senior year. Seniors who don’t pass face a bevy of options, according to Jack O’Connell, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"You can keep taking the exit exam," O’Connell said in a news conference Thursday. "You can take a fifth year of high school. You can take a sixth year. You can go to community college."

There is plenty of evidence that seniors continue to seek a passing score on the exit exam long after their classmates have switched the tassels on their graduation caps.

While 26 seniors in Jefferson High School District met other graduation requirements but did not pass the exit exam, 29 — including three from prior years — returned to take the exam again in July 2007, according to Rick Boitano, deputy school superintendent in the district.

If a 10th-grader fails the test on the first try, schools offer remedial courses, support and even individualized tutoring to help students earn a passing score.

"We try to make sure seniors are going in the direction of getting a diploma," said Brandon Lee, director of assessment at the Sequoia Union High School District.

After-school courses, independent study and courses through the district’s adult school are among the options, as is private tutoring. "If we do small groups, like three-on-one or individual tutoring, that has been helping a lot," Lee said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com


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