Bill delaying graduation exam for a year OK’d

The Associated Press
Wednesday February 21, 2001

SACRAMENTO — The California Senate voted Tuesday to delay Gov. Gray Davis’ high school graduation test for a year, saying students need more time to prepare for its tough questions, especially in algebra. 

“How many of you could pass a test on algebra even if you had it recently?” Sen. Betty Karnette, a former math teacher from Long Beach, asked her colleagues. 

Only a couple of hands were weakly raised. 

Current law requires the class of 2004 – today’s ninth-graders – to pass the rigorous new test to graduate.  

The test is scheduled to be given next month for the first time to ninth-graders who volunteer, on March 7 for reading and writing and on March 13 for math. 

The bill, sent to the Assembly by a 21-13 vote, would make the class of 2005, today’s eighth-graders, the first one that would have to pass it. 

The Democratic governor is opposed to postponing the test, saying he believes today’s ninth-graders will have taken enough tough courses to pass the test by their senior year. Students are allowed to take the test several times. 

Davis and lawmakers have provided additional funds to school districts for items such as new textbooks and teacher training “to ensure that students are prepared for the exam,” Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean said Tuesday. 

The postponement bill, by Sen. Jack O’Connell, D-San Luis Obispo, was originally introduced for Davis, who wants to make next month’s test only a practice exam for ninth-graders. 

The 1999 law creating the test says ninth-graders who pass the test don’t have to take it again. Davis fears that means the 10th-graders who take the test in 2002, when the state will set an official passing score, will not be a valid cross-section of students. That could leave the state vulnerable to legal challenges. 

At this point, there is no mechanism in place to determine a passing score for students who take the test this year. 

O’Connell’s bill was amended in the Senate Education Committee last month to delay the entire test for one year to make it more likely to pass legal challenges. 

Court rulings in other states with similar high-stakes tests have said students cannot be tested on things they have not actually been taught. 

Algebra, which will be on the test at Davis’ insistence, is at the heart of the concern about the test. 

More than a third of students graduating from high school do not taken algebra now.  

However, a new law that took effect in January makes algebra a requirement for graduation in all districts, beginning with the class of 2004. 

“The big picture is will this measure withstand the legal challenges we believe are going to be filed?” asked O’Connell. “We want to have a fair and valid test.” 

Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, said when the original test bill was approved nearly two years ago, “all of us knew that the timeframe was going to be very tight.” 

A consulting company hired by the state to evaluate the development of the test last summer recommended delaying it for one or two years to give schools and students more time to prepare. 

However, Republican senators opposed delaying the test, saying the state needs to give it as soon as possible to see how well high school students are doing. 

“There’s absolutely no reason why we ought to relax any requirements,” said Sen. Ray Haynes, R-Riverside. 

The bill would also ban ninth-graders from taking the test after this year and would require the state to release some of the test questions each year so the public will know what the exam is like. 

On the Net: Read the bill, SB84, at http://www.sen.ca.gov 

Read about the high school test at