California suspends high school exit exam


Illustration by Brittany England/The Pioneer

Jesse Castro,
Staff Writer

For the last 12 years, California high school students were required to pass all three parts of the California High School Exit Exam to obtain their diploma. That came to an end when Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 172 this past October to suspend the exam for three or more years and allow a new exam to be designed that aligns with the Common Core State Standards adopted by California in 2010.

The State Board of Education initially administered the exam in 2003 to ensure students’ competency in reading, writing and mathematics. By 2010, more than 70 percent of students who took the exam passed on their first try.

Students answered multiple-choice questions for the math section, which covered algebra, geometry, probability and statistics. The first part of the English section required students to answer multiple-choice questions and the second part required them to write a multi-paragraph essay based on a short prompt.

The high school exit exam was initially developed to reflect the academic state standards of that time, but over the 12 years it was administered, critics said the exam made clear the economic and racial disparities that exist throughout districts statewide.

Brown’s bill suspended the exit exam from graduation requirements for the next three years and retroactively granted any student from the graduating class of 2004 or subsequent years to receive their diploma if they completed all other graduation requirements except passing the CAHSEE.

At the beginning of the year, former students were expected to contact the last school they attended in twelfth grade or their local educational agency to determine their eligibility for a diploma. If the student is approved, the school Data Tech updates the transcripts and the Assessment Department orders the diploma. Then the transcripts and diploma are delivered to the transcript office to be distributed to the student upon presentation of valid identification.

Although this appears to be beneficial for former students, many current students don’t see the significance of the suspension of the exit exam. “It doesn’t really affect us since they’ll probably replace it,” said Heidi Jacobson, a sophomore at Hayward High School.

Jacobson seemed indifferent about the suspension of the exit exam, but Joseph Diwa, a senior at Hayward High, who had already taken and passed the exit exam, expressed a deep resentment for the change. “I stressed over nothing since it’s not even a requirement anymore,” said Diwa.

According to Sabrina Aranda, communications coordinator for Hayward Unified School District, the Assessment Department and the School Sites Data Techs, “are continuing to work on flagging qualified students” and have identified 316 students so far who qualify to receive their diploma, even though they never passed the exit exam. Hayward Unified School District also held a “Keys to Success” diploma issuance ceremony in late September to award diplomas to 44 students who recently failed the exam but were still eligible to receive a diploma under Brown’s new law.

Hayward Unified has sent letters to eligible students and posted information which explains the steps former students need to take to claim their diplomas on “Made in Hayward” social media websites and the HUSD main website.

While some districts, like HUSD, work to identify and inform former students, Senate Bill 172 does not actually require any school or district to actively seek out former students to award these diplomas. Instead, eligible students must find the information for themselves and make the inquiries with their local education agencies.