A San Francisco appellate court on Tuesday heard arguments about the fairness of the California High School Exit Examination for the class of 2006. At stake are diplomas for some of the 40,000 students who failed to pass the test, which became a requirement this year.
Opponents of the public school exam have argued that the test penalizes students who didn't have access to a quality education, while proponents say it is a necessary indicator of student achievement.
The case has taken numerous legal twists and turns, and Tuesday's proceedings won't be the last.
In mid-May, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction staying enforcement of the graduation test.
At that point, students who had completed every other requirement would have received diplomas and attended graduation ceremonies with their classmates.
But later that month, the California Supreme Court lifted the injunction, which effectively reinstated the test requirement. The Supreme Court sent the case to the 1st Appellate District to rule on the merits of the injunction.
A decision from the three-judge panel is expected within 90 days.
"We feel cautiously optimistic," said Rick Miller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. "One thing was crystal clear: The court was familiar with the intricacies of the case. One thing that the court brought up is that this is really about an education, not a diploma. If a child is denied or doesn't have an appropriate education, shouldn't the remedy be more education rather than a diploma?"
Whatever the decision, the case is likely to be appealed again to the state Supreme Court.
Regardless of the outcome, "it's too late to allow these students to walk with their peers at their graduation ceremonies," said Tara Kini, an attorney and law fellow for Public Advocates, which has been involved in the case.
"These students have been forever deprived of that," she said.
In September, the same appellate court is scheduled to review a separate lawsuit challenging the exit exam.
The exam, which tests students in English and math, can be taken numerous times beginning in the sophomore year.