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L.A. School Board Votes to Oppose State Exit Exam

Times Staff Writers

The Los Angeles Unified School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose the state’s requirement that students pass an exit exam before graduating from high school, a move that some educators hope will influence the state to postpone or drop the test.

“We should be working with the State Board of Education so that this whole thing gets stopped,” said board member Genethia Hudley-Hayes, who co-sponsored the motion with board member Jose Huizar.

“If we use the California Exit Exam to determine whether or not a student receives a diploma, and yet we’re not giving youngsters what they need to pass, then we’re holding students accountable for something that we’re not holding the institution accountable for,” she said.

More than 100,000 teenagers have failed the California High School Exit Exam at least twice and must retake it.

Students across the state have held rallies and protests in recent months to urge to state to delay or drop the graduation requirement, which takes effect for the class of 2004.

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At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, Hudley-Hayes suggested that the Los Angeles district simply boycott the test. However, after conferring in closed session with attorneys and other board members, she withdrew that idea. As a public official, she said, “It’s not OK for me to break the law.”

Nearly 100 students, mostly members of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a grass-roots organization that has been fighting the exam, showed up at Tuesday’s meeting and cited disparities among ethnic groups on test results.

Pass rates on the 2002 exit exam among white and Asian students were nearly double those of Latinos and African Americans. Among students from low-income homes, only 22% passed the exam’s math section last spring, while about 40% of students considered not economically disadvantaged passed.

The school board’s vote was “a big victory for people who are trying to challenge institutional racism in schools,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, a member of the group and teacher at Crenshaw High School.

“It means that L.A. Unified, the biggest and most influential district in the state, is now on record opposing the racist diploma penalty that is attached to the high school exit exam,” Caputo-Pearl said.

Members of the State Board of Education have said that they will re-examine whether to delay the requirement or change it over the next few months.

Test supporters warned that dropping the test would not help struggling students in the long run because the exam’s content is not unreasonably difficult and that students can get help to master the material they should know by graduation.

The exam covers language arts concepts through the 10th grade and math through basic algebra, often a ninth-grade class.

However, the exam protesters contend that some schools are not teaching the material on the test, which is offered as many as three times a year.

Rene Martinez, 16, a junior at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles, said the test is unfair because he has received an inadequate education.

He said classes are overcrowded, teachers are unprepared and it is a challenge to learn.

Still, he is coping with the possibility that he may not graduate next year, although he wants to attend Pitzer College.

“It makes me feel dumb,” he said. “It makes me feel like I should know all of this stuff, but I don’t.”


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