BY STEPHEN WALL | The Press-Enterprise
High school students may no longer have to take a test that is now required for graduation.
Proposed state legislation calls for suspending the California High School Exit Exam for three years and setting up a panel to recommend whether to replace or eliminate the test.
Schools are moving toward more rigorous Common Core standards. Many standardized tests were halted during the transition to the new standards, but the exit exam remains a graduation requirement.
Supporters of Senate Bill 172 say the test should be shelved because it is not aligned with Common Core and instead measures state standards put in place in the 1990s.
The bill, which passed the state Senate, is being considered in the Assembly.
“If students are to be tested, they should be tested on what they have been taught,” state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, said in a statement. Roth voted for the measure.
Since 2006, all California seniors have been required to take the exit exam, which measures whether students meet basic proficiency standards in math and English. They are given eight chances to pass it starting in their sophomore year. The exam is offered several times a year. May results will be released later this month.
The bill by Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, does not offer a substitute for the exit exam. Her measure puts the exam on hold for three years starting in the 2016-17 school year. During that time, students wouldn’t have to take the test to graduate.
While it is on hold, an advisory group of parents, teachers and others would come up with recommendations whether to continue the exam or test students in a different way.
Opponents are concerned about a possible lag in testing.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said she likely will vote against the bill.
“I would like to see them come up with a test that would work well with the current standards,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Suspending it and having nothing to replace it is poor management and an ill-conceived way to handle the education of our students.”
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, who voted against the bill, agreed an “interim assessment” is needed to ensure graduates have necessary skills to attend college or enter the workforce.
“Exit exams may also illuminate whether the controversial Common Core program has contributed to or has been detrimental to our high school graduates’ educational competency,” Stone said in an email.
While the bill works it way through the legislative process, local school districts are dealing with another issue.
The state was scheduled to offer the exit exam in July, but the contract with the company that administered the test ended. With the cancellation of the July exam, students hoping to take the exam and graduate over the summer are in limbo.
The Riverside County Office of Education couldn’t provide the exact number of seniors who are affected, but officials say it is small.
“School districts will have to come up with a way to determine students have met the requirements to get a high school diploma,” said Kenn Young, Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. “They will probably get some kind of a waiver from the state.”
Young said the exit exam is “woefully inadequate” and should be replaced. He added that students who have met all other requirements except passing the test should have another way to show they are ready for graduation.
State officials say they’re aware of the situation but don’t have any advice for districts.
“We’re making every effort to not keep students in limbo,” said Pam Slater, California Department of Education spokeswoman. “We don’t know of a solution. We’re waiting to see how the bill moves along.”
Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, said an amendment will be added to the legislation allowing last year’s seniors who haven’t passed the test but meet all other graduation requirements to get their diplomas when the bill becomes law.
“We need to ensure students who have completed their educational requirements do not lose the opportunity to graduate simply because a state contract expires,” Roth said in an email.
State education officials are making contingency plans to extend the current testing contract and continue offering the exam if the bill fails.
Local leaders say that while the exit exam served a useful purpose for many years, it’s time for an update. It tests English skills at a 10th-grade level and math skills at an eighth-grade level. More than 95 percent of seniors pass it, but many are not prepared for college-level math and English, studies show.
“It’s not the right tool for a viable curriculum that emphasizes career and college readiness,” said Elliott Duchon, superintendent of the Jurupa Unified School District.
Jonathan Greenberg, superintendent of the Perris Union High School District, agrees on the need for “a more authentic” testing requirement to replace the exit exam.
“The basics aren’t enough,” Greenberg said. “Having kids just bubble in answers won’t prove they have the skills for the 21st century.”