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UCLA Report Questions State’s Findings on HS Exit Exam: alleges results are over-estimated, raise more questions than answers

A new report by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (UCLA/IDEA) has found that California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results issued by the California Department of Education (CDE) over-estimate passage rates, reveal striking connections between students’ performance and the resources at their schools, and fail to demonstrate the exam’s real impact on California’s students.

IDEA’s re-analyses of the CAHSEE results for the graduating Class of 2006 (based on the CDE’s report released on August 15, 2005) reveal that schools with high passage rates differ dramatically from those in low passage rates in the basic learning conditions and opportunities they provide to students. Students in schools with the lowest passage rates are far more likely to experience severe school overcrowding and be taught by unqualified teachers.

In addition, these schools are far more likely to be designated with substandard conditions under the Williams v. California settlement.

“Students in schools with low passages rates are six times more likely to be in a critically overcrowded school, 11 times more likely to be in a school with shortages of fully credentialed teachers and three times more likely to be in a school where at least 50% of math classes are taught by teachers who are not certified to teach mathematics. They are also more likely to be in a year-round school,” said Dr. John Rogers, the report’s lead author and IDEA’s Associate Director.

IDEA’s research further reveals that the CDE over-estimates passage rates on the exam by excluding students who are more likely to fail the exam. The CDE leaves out of its formula more than 40,000 students who either dropped out in 10th and 11th grades or stayed enrolled but did not re-take the exam in Spring 2005. IDEA’s estimates of the percentages of students in the class of 2006 who have passed the exam are significantly lower for all students and for important subgroups of students, including Latino and African-American students, Special Education students, and English Learner Students.

“In addition, IDEA’s research points to a number of areas where the state has not provided sufficient information. We know how many students have passed the English Language Arts (ELA) test, and we know how many passed the Mathematics test. But, we have no idea how many have passed both sections of the CAHSEE. We will have no way of knowing how many students are at risk in any particular region, county, district or school,” Rogers held.

“The most basic questions about the CAHSEE remain unanswered: How many students are at risk for failing to graduate? How is the CAHSEE requirement affecting the high school dropout rate? Some of these questions cannot be answered because the state has not released the data. Others require the state to implement its long-stalled plan for a comprehensive longitudinal data system with unique student identifiers,” added Dr. Jeannie Oakes, IDEA’s Director.

“This year is critical for educators, students and state leaders in California. Policy makers and education officials are asking students to prove they deserve a diploma. Yet, they are asking them to do so under circumstances that appear inaccurate, unfair and with information that is inaccurate and incomplete. Because California has only a single measure of student proficiency, it is one of only eight states that automatically deny diplomas to students who fail the paper-and-pencil exam,” Oakes added.

Although 20 states currently have an exit exam requirement, most allow students to demonstrate their proficiency through other means (other standardized tests or assessments, course grades and passage, culminating projects, portfolios of work, etc.) if they fail the test. No students are granted diplomas unless they meet clear standards.

“Californians cannot not feel at ease with any number of students being denied diplomas. The state can and should act immediately to develop its long-stalled data system that will allow us to assess students’ performance accurately and to understand better how the conditions and opportunities in their schools relates to that performance,” Rogers added.

Rogers presented the report’s key findings last week at the California High School Exit Exam Convening Conference, sponsored by The Harvard Civil Rights Project in San Jose, California.IDEA’s report, “More Questions Than Answers: CAHSEE Results, Opportunity to Learn & the Class of 2006,” is available via IDEA’s web site at http://idea.gseis.ucla.edu/. Fact sheets are available as well.

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