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Here's one way to give out more high school diplomas

Here's one way to give out more high school diplomas
Students at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School practice for new state standardized tests inFebruary. The tests have supplanted older ones, including the high school exit exam. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

State lawmakers are pushing through emergency legislation that would allow students from the class of 2015 to receive diplomas immediately without passing the state's high school exit exam.

If it clears the Legislature, the bill would benefit about 5,000 students who have not passed the test but have completed other graduation requirements. Of these, 492 are Los Angeles Unified students, according to Cynthia Lim, the district's executive director for data and accountability.

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In past years, these students could have taken the test in July, but the state canceled its summer testing as part of a move to a new system.

Passing the July test could have allowed students to attend four-year state colleges to which they've been conditionally accepted. Those colleges require a high school diploma or the equivalent.

On Thursday, the bill passed the state Assembly 77 to 1. The state Senate will take up the legislation as soon as Monday.

California's high school exit exam has long been a requirement for graduation. Its introduction was controversial because critics said it would disproportionately hold back low-income black and Latino students.

That prediction proved correct, but passage rates have improved over the years. Supporters said the results showed that students could rise to the occasion when confronted with more rigorous academic demands.

The exam tested English standards at the 10th grade level and math at the 7th and 8th grade level.

Helping students in testing limbo became a legislative priority after an article was published this month in the San Francisco Chronicle. The article profiled two teenagers who were accepted into a college but had fallen just shy of passing the English Language Arts section of the exit exam. The two students had passed the math portion.

The July test was called off to save money, especially because the test is likely to be permanently suspended before the end of the year. The test no longer aligns with the state's recently adopted learning goals.

For many students, canceling the test is a long-term plus. Based on past years, most of the 5,000 affected students would not have passed the exit exam in July. Now, as part of the transition to new exams, those students are likely to receive a diploma without having to pass.

But without the emergency legislation, they would have to wait until January 1 for diplomas.

The issue then was whether some students should have to sit out the fall semester of college.

Officials from the state Department of Education said that they support the emergency legislation but that many students have long faced a similar delay, because results of the July test were not available until October.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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