This time, the test counts

Time is running out for about 100 high school seniors in Chico who have yet to pass the California High School Exit Exam.

While nearly 90 percent of students at Chico’s public high schools have passed both the math and English language portions of the test, about 100 have not, most of them special education students and students who are still learning English, said Cynthia Kampf, director of categorical programs and testing for the Chico Unified School District.

“The numbers are looking good,” Kampf said. “We have plans in place to assist the kids who have not passed.” Those plans include tutors and after-school programs, along with one-on-one help from teachers.

“In some ways I’m a little worried because every time they take it and they fail, they give up a little more hope,” she said. About half of students with disabilities have yet to pass the test.

It’s the first year that the high-stakes, two-day test will determine who leaves school with a diploma and who does not.

Legislators, touting “accountability,” added the CAHSSE to the standardized test mix in 1999. The test was repeatedly delayed as it was reworked to better align with state standards and lowered the percentage threshold required to pass to 55 percent for math and 60 percent for English. (In some states, exit exams have resulted in higher dropout rates.)

This year’s seniors have two more shots at the test, in February and in May. Results from a test administered earlier this year came in this week, and 50 more students passed. Most Chico seniors started trying to pass the test during their sophomore year.

Before the new figures, which were set to be presented to the CUSD Board of Trustees on Nov. 16, came in this week, 85 percent of students had passed both tests. At Chico High, 88 percent of the class of 2006 had passed, while at Pleasant Valley, 92 percent did so. At Fair View, the alternative school, 55 percent had passed. The test was also administered to a handful of students at the Academy for Change and Oakdale School.

Many educators have mixed feelings about the high-stakes test, believing the state’s obsession with measuring students’ skills takes time and money away from teaching and unfairly jeopardizes minority and disabled students.

Kampf agreed that it doesn’t seem fair to deny diplomas to young people who have completed their high school coursework. But, she said, “I think it’s important that we apply the test to those populations, because if we don’t we run the risk of saying it doesn’t matter.”

If a student does not pass, he or she can be issued a “certificate of completion.” Kampf said Butte College, which requires a high school diploma or GED for enrollment, is considering modifying its requirements to allow nongraduates to attend.