View From Lodi, CA: California High Schools Need Immigration Reform, Not Exit Exam
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The moment of truth is fast approaching for California high school seniors.

Unless current legislation is revised, the class of 2006 will be the first group of seniors required to pass both a math and English examination by June to earn a diploma.

The test is given in two parts over two days. But as many as 100,000 are expected to fail.

According to the October 1st Los Angeles Times story by Duke Helfand, 20% of Seniors Flunk High School Graduation Exam, even though the test is geared to an eighth grade level in math and a 9th/10th grade level in English, a significant percentage of students will not pass.

Adding to the disappointment of the high failure rate is that, in order to pass, the students—who can take the test several times—only have to answer slightly more than 50 percent of the questions correctly.

Here's more bad news: the Virginia-based Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) found that tens of thousands of students—mainly special education and non-English speakers—will likely fail despite remedial classes and after-school tutoring.

The litany of reasons for the high failure rate is familiar to every Californian. Among those obstacles cited by the HumRRO report are unprepared and unmotivated students, uninterested parents or broken homes, overcrowded schools and a shortage of credentialed, experienced teachers in disadvantaged schools.

These points are all well taken. And, viewed as a whole, it is remarkable that the failure rate is not higher.

Given the stark reality of the abilities (or lack thereof) of California public education students and the late hour of the crisis, the best thing to do at this juncture is to cut losses by canceling—once and for all—the exit exam. 

From the outset, an exit exam was a politically motivated bad idea that has been kicking around too long.

The exit exam concept originated in 1999 and became law in 2001 with the blessing of then-Governor Gray Davis. Like all politicians, Davis promised to be the "education governor." But his idea of an exit exam was essentially D.O.A.

The 2004 class was the first scheduled to take the test. But when the dismal 2003 pre-test results—a 20% failure rate—began to trickle in, the state quickly postponed the exam. Said Reed Hastings, then the California Board of Education president, "It becomes a question of, not whether to delay it, but for how long to delay it."

And it is a good thing the exam was delayed. The failure rates were, according to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Donnell, "…Not where we want to be…not where we hoped to be…"

Since 2001, little has changed. The students still struggle. Real learning has not advanced.

And the test serves no one—not students, not teachers and not politicians.

Show me, please, the politician who will stand up to the thousands of irate parents of kids who fail the exit exam and don't graduate. 

Let's deal with the reality of California public education. Nearly 25% of all students are classified as English Language Learners. More than 300 native languages are spoken throughout state schools.

Among Special Education students, 65% cannot pass the test.  Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have given Special Ed students a reprieve from the test.

A better approach to graduation requirements is the one introduced by Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, from the California State Assembly.

In her Assembly Bill 153, Bass proposed that California follow the successful examples set by the higher academically-performing states of Oregon, Washington, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. 

Under Bass' bill, a passing grade on the test would be only part of what a senior needs. If a student should fail the test, he could still earn a diploma if he maintained a satisfactory grade point average, kept a good attendance record, participated in extracurricular activities and submitted an adequate senior project.

But Schwarzenegger also vetoed the Bass this week bill claiming it would have sent a message to:

"Students, parents, teachers and administrators that we do not expect students to achieve at the highest levels." [Exit Exam Bills Fail to Pass Schwarzenegger Test, by Jennifer Coleman, Daily Breeze, October 12, 2005]

So California is back to square one on the exit exam. And civil rights lawyers are lining up to challenge the test.

Why does the state keep beating a dead horse? Making an exit exam mandatory for graduation from a California high school isn't consistent with what's going on in today's K-12 world.

Students that have performed to their ability should be allowed to graduate with or without the test.

Besides, from a practical perspective, what would we do with students held back?

Doesn't California already have a shortage of classroom space?



California's education tragedy is one of the most horrible consequences of out-of-control immigration.

The federal government's open borders policy on California public education is like kicking someone when he's down. As more and more poor, non-English speaking families arrive in California, the impossibility of providing quality education diminishes proportionately.

Retired California principal E.G. Brink told me, "How can the students pass any test when school districts place so much emphasis on multiculturalism and self-esteem?"

There is simply no way given the current blasé attitude toward enforcing immigration law that K-12 education will ever improve. Whether there is an exit exam or not will not alter the grim truth.

Enlightened observers look at California schools as if they are holding tanks: require children under 18 to attend and hope for the best.

Those who learn something along the way are the lucky ones.

As for the others—well, we're thankful that they're off the streets and not stealing hubcaps or getting pregnant…at least not before 2:30 P.M.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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