California suspends the CAHSEE

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Amid the numerous laws that are set to take effect this year, one of these included the suspension of the California High School Exit Exam, or the CAHSEE. Passing this test, which is typically given to students in 10th grade, has been one of the requirements in getting a high school diploma.

Senator Carol Liu introduced the bill, called SB- 172,  in February 2015 and it was signed by Governor Jerry Brown later that year in October. Sen. Liu’s Education Policy Adviser Ed Honowitz explained that the bill came out of a need to adjust testing in light of the new Common Core implementation.

“Students were being taught based on Common Core standards but the CAHSEE test was not aligned to those standards, so that was where the underlining issue was. Since it was no longer aligned with what the kids were learning, it didn’t seem to be a sort of high stakes sort of test to give to people,” Honowitz said.

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Common Core is, according to their website, “a set of clear college- and career- ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Other states began implementing Common Core standards in 2010 and California followed suit in 2012.  With these new changes in learning standards, there was a new disconnect forming between what students were learning in the classroom and what they were being tested on in the CAHSEE. SB- 172 gives California more time to close that gap.

“The bill was really to create a hiatus in the testing. It’s giving the state a chance to make some determination on what would be the next version of a high school exit exam and what would be appropriate given the change in the state standards and such,” Honowitz explained.

Although the issue of dealing with the relationship between Common Core and the CAHSEE was the main one to be tackled, there were other concerns that were being raised in terms of students who were not able to get their high school diploma because they had not passed the exam.

“There was some emergency legislation passed that said that if you passed all of your coursework and met all of the other state and district requirements but didn’t pass the CAHSEE, you should still be able to get your diploma,” Honowitz said.

John Marshall High School (Photo: Camille Frigillana)

John Marshall High School (Photo: Camille Frigillana)

For Adriana Carovska, an 11th grade student at Los Angeles’s John Marshall High School, it does not seem fair to her that people are able to get their diplomas without passing the CAHSEE test.

“I am a terrible test taker so I hate tests and I also don’t like how teachers base your intelligence on tests. But at the same time, I think that everyone could pass the CAHSEE because it’s just that easy of a test. Plus, I think that it’s a good wake up call for students who aren’t taking school seriously that tests actually do matter,” Carovska said.

But Honowitz argued that the test can also be difficult for those who are not proficient enough in a certain subject because of reasons beyond their control.

“In some cases you had English learners who were able to pass everything except the English Language portion. A lot of them haven’t been in the country long enough to have all of the skills required to do that,” Honowitz said.

The CAHSEE, according the the CDE website, consisted of two multiple choice sections involving English language and mathematics. In addition to the English multiple choice section, students must also write an essay in response to a specific prompt.  The maximum points that a student can get in each section is 450, and students must get at least 350 points in those sections in order to pass the entire test.

“The reading portion included vocabulary; reading comprehension; analysis of information and literary texts. The writing portion covered writing strategies, applications, and conventions. The writing task called for students to provide a written response to literature, to an informational passage, or to a writing prompt.

The mathematics part included statistics; data analysis and probability; number sense; measurement and geometry; mathematical reasoning; and algebra. Students were required to demonstrate strong computational skills and a foundation in arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions, and percentages.”

Between the years of 2006-2015, an average of 78.58% of English learners passed the CAHSEE as a whole. An average of 48.9% of English learners passed the English language portion of the test, while 61.98% passed mathematics.

This table depicts, by demographic, the percentage of students who passed the CAHSEE between 2006-2015 (Courtesy

This table depicts, by demographic, the percentage of students who passed the CAHSEE between 2006-2015 (Courtesy

Honowitz believes that the circumstances that certain students are in can prove to be a disadvantage when it came to taking the CAHSEE, and that by failing the test can have serious consequences.

“The negative repercussions of not having a high school diploma kind of cuts off access for a lot of people to a whole set of things including additional education options or entering the military. There were people that had their lives significantly changed based on a couple of points on a test when they had essentially passed their other requirements,” Honowitz explained.

Photo: Camille Frigillana

Photo: Camille Frigillana

With SB- 172, students who were in the graduating class of 2003-2004 and other subsequent years are now able to get their high school diploma so long as they had fulfilled other requirements needed from the school and the district.

The bill will span over three years, and during this time a committee consisting of those part of the CDE will meet and formulate a new test that will better align with the Common Core standards.

According to the bill itself, SB- 172 “would add a new requirement, that the Superintendent [of the CDE] convene an advisory panel consisting of specified individuals to provide recommendations to the Superintendent on the continuation of the high school exit examination and on alternative pathways to satisfy specified high school graduation requirements, to those recommendations to be submitted by the Superintendent.”

“That group has been meeting and they are doing some work to try and determine what should be the next step and what would be aligned to the new California content standards,” Honowitz explained.

Even though there is no official testing that high school students need to pass in order to graduate, the possibility isn’t counted out for the future. Carovska hopes that some sort of testing will start up again.

“High school isn’t a joke, and people need to learn that early on. Sophomores should have some kind of wake up call, and one that’s actually on a sophomore learning level instead of it being super easy like the CAHSEE was,” Carovska said.


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