Students walk despite not passing state exam


COSTA MESA — Despite a school board policy barring the practice, high school seniors who have not passed the state-mandated exit exam will walk in Thursday’s Newport-Mesa Unified commencement ceremonies.

The policy technically forbids the seniors from walking, but the practice has long been allowed, school officials said.

Seniors who have passed all graduation requirements except the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), but retook the test in May, are given an exemption. Those retakers don’t get their results until after graduation.

“We like to make the assumption that the kids pass the test,” said Charles Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education, adding that the district wouldn’t want to deny a student the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Newport Harbor has about 10 students who fall into the exception, said Principal Michael Vossen.

Costa Mesa High School has five students, said Principal Phil D’Agostino.

Estancia High School has 11 students with the exception, said Principal Kirk Bauermeister.

Corona del Mar High School Principal Tim Bryan said his school doesn’t have any students who fit that situation.

Back Bay/Monte Vista High School couldn’t be reached on Wednesday for comment.

Some students don’t see the de facto policy as equitable.

“I think they should pass (the exit exam), because it’s kind of unfair that I passed,” said Back Bay/Monte Vista senior Daisy Marin, 18.

Board policy states that commencement is for students who have earned a diploma that cannot be obtained, in accordance with state law, without passing the exit test. There are some exceptions for students with disabilities.

According to board policy, “High school graduation ceremonies shall be held to recognize those students who have earned a diploma by successfully completing the required course of study, satisfying district standards and passing any required assessments.”

Despite walking, students will not get a diploma until they pass the exam, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

“It’s always been our practice,” Boss said. “It’s nothing new.”

Graduating Back Bay/Monte Vista senior Kzamir Patelski, 17, said he doesn’t know why students would want to participate in commencement if they weren’t getting their diploma.

“Why walk?” he asked.

Thirty-year school Trustee Judy Franco said past policies were different at each school.

After learning Wednesday about the exception, she said she doesn’t see a problem with letting the students walk. She also made a request to look into the graduation policy and consider making the exception official.

After the Daily Pilot made inquiries, the district sent out an e-mail Tuesday morning to the high school principals clarifying the policy, officials said.

“The CAHSEE has always provided some confusion,” Boss said.

The statewide test was introduced in 2005-06 as a diploma requirement to ensure students are grade-level proficient in math, reading and writing, according to the state Department of Education.

Students first take the test sophomore year and have multiple chances to retake it junior and senior years.

Policies about graduation ceremonies vary by district.

The Irvine Unified School District doesn’t allow students to walk in commencement if they haven’t passed the exam, spokesman Ian Hanigan said in an e-mail.

However, Huntington Beach Union High School District’s board policy permits students to participate if they have met all requirements other than the exit exam.