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More Effort to Pass Exam Urged

The state schools chief says he hopes the 9% of students who have not passed the mandatory high school exit test will keep trying.

July 22, 2006|Carla Rivera | Times Staff Writer

More than 40,000 high school seniors still have not passed California's new mandatory exit exam but state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Friday that he hopes students will continue studying, even taking a fifth year of high school, to help them pass the test.

Nearly 91% of students in the class of 2006 have passed both the English-language arts and mathematics portions of the California High School Exit Exam, including an additional 1,759 students who passed it in May, according to figures released by the state Department of Education. The exam measures math and English proficiency, and students must pass it to earn a diploma.

Of the thousands of seniors who did not sport a cap and gown this spring, a survey of the state's larger school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, found that less than 5% failed to receive a diploma solely because they did not pass the exit exam. The rest also lacked other key requirements, such as class attendance or sufficient academic credits, state officials said.

Overall, about 396,000 students have passed the test. But at a Los Angeles news conference, O'Connell said that students should reconsider moving forward with their lives without conquering the exam.

"We want them to be enrolled in summer classes, adult education classes or to take a fifth year of high school; we want students to be in preparatory mode," O'Connell said.

"In this new economy they will need those critical thinking skills, analytical skills and higher problem-solving skills. To me, it's not about taking a test, it's about preparing students for the future."

Students can continue taking the exam until they pass, and two administrations are scheduled for next week. Intensive remediation, independent study and adult school programs are also available.

Some districts are scheduling special commencement ceremonies for students who did not graduate in the spring, and O'Connell said he will be speaking at many of those. He also said he is somewhat heartened at the progress made by students who are Latino, black, poor or English-learners. Those students have lagged behind white students. The pass rate for English-learners, for example, increased to nearly 77% from about 69% six months ago.

Still, critics have challenged the exam, with a lower court striking it down and a divided state Supreme Court reinstating it. An appeals court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case next week.

In L.A. Unified, the state's largest district, about 86% of students overall have passed the exam. Seven high schools have 100% pass rates, including the Los Angeles Center for Enrichment Studies, a 1,600-student West Los Angeles magnet school where 200 seniors have taken the exam. The other six are smaller schools: High Tech High School, Harbor Teacher Preparatory Academy, San Antonio High School, Phoenix Continuation High School, CDS Johnson and Angel's Gate High School.

Margaret Kim, principal at Los Angeles Center for Enrichment Studies, said her students -- a culturally and economically diverse group where 40% qualify for free or reduced-price lunches -- benefit from a creative academic program that allows for longer class periods and extra enrichment or elective classes for each student.

"The advantage we have over other schools is that we are a magnet, so all of the students want to be at school, all of their parents want them to be at school. The motivation is extremely high," noted Kim. "We have sixth-graders mingling with 12th-graders who naturally become their mentors. The environment is really safe.

"Given the same kinds of conditions, other schools could probably do the same."

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