State Education Official Seeks to Delay Exit Exam

Times Staff Writer

The president of the State Board of Education, reacting to a new report that highlights the high failure rate on California’s high school exit exam, said Thursday that the test should be postponed as a graduation requirement for up to three years.

Students in the class of 2004 must pass the math and English-language arts portions of the exam to earn a diploma, according to current rules that have provoked protests from many worried parents and teens.

Only about 60% of the students in the class of 2004 have passed the math portion of the test so far, according to the state-mandated report released Thursday. Even after additional attempts over the next year, about 20% of that class still might be denied diplomas, the study estimated.

Reed Hastings, president of the state board, said he now favors a delay of the requirement until the class of 2005, or perhaps two more after that, so students can be better prepared for an exam with such high stakes.


“It becomes a question of, not whether to delay it, but for how long to delay it,” he said.

The board is expected to decide on a possible delay by July. Votes of six out of the 10 members are required to change the policy.

Two board members, Nancy Ichinaga and Suzanne Tacheny, said Thursday that they also support a delay, but did not offer a time frame.

A newly appointed member, Luis Rodriguez, said he had not seen the report and had not made up his mind about a postponement. Other members could not be reached or did not return calls.

Ichinaga said she is opposed to using a single test to determine whether students graduate high school. But given that the state Legislature mandated such a test, Ichinaga, a former elementary school principal in Inglewood, said she wants to give students every opportunity to pass.

“There will always be kids who have a hard time. We have to figure out how to accommodate them. And we haven’t done that,” she said. “It’s just easier to say, ‘Here are the requirements and if you don’t make it, tough luck.’ ”

The high school exit exam -- which covers language arts material through 10th grade and math through basic algebra -- has stirred opposition among parents of students who have failed it multiple times.

Anti-test activists have organized demonstrations around California to pressure state officials to drop or delay the graduation requirement.

The new evaluation of the test, produced for the state by the Human Resources Research Organization in Virginia, found that California middle schools and high schools are paying much closer attention to the state’s academic standards in math and English, upon which the exit exam is based.

Schools also are offering more remedial and supplemental classes for students who do not pass the exams.

“Having the exit exam in place has improved curriculum and instruction, and it has focused resources so that more students are getting the help they need to master tough standards,” said Kerry Mazzoni, the state’s secretary of education.

But the report also found that a “lack of prerequisite skills,” along with inadequate motivation and parental support, may be contributing to the failures.

The class of 2004 is at a particular disadvantage in math because many were not taught algebra in middle school and missed the opportunity for a grounding in skills required to pass the test, the study found. That has changed for subsequent classes.

The report offers a menu of alternatives for dealing with these problems: California could lower the passing standard in math. Students have to answer 55% of the questions correctly to pass. Lowering that figure could mean a loss of credibility for the exam, the report warns. And the state could delay enforcement of the exam, but that could undermine momentum schools have gained around the standards instruction.

Tacheny of the state board said the goal of the test should not get lost in the debate over its enforcement.

“The most important message we need for schools to hear is that kids need these skills on the test to be prepared for college and today’s economy,” she said.