Board sets passing grades for high school test

The Associated Press
Friday June 08, 2001

SACRAMENTO — The state school board, wary of possible legal challenges, Thursday set lower passing grades for the new state high school graduation test than those recommended by an advisory group. 

At the level of 60 percent for English and 55 percent for math, nearly a third of students who are just finishing ninth grade have already passed the tough exam. 

Gov. Gray Davis has made the exit exam a key part of his effort to improve public schools, and California is one of 22 requiring students to pass a test to graduate. 

The state Board of Education decided to lower the 70 percent scores recommended by an advisory group of educators because of the dismal results for minority and poor ninth-graders who took the test for the first time this spring. 

The Democratic governor and other state education officials also pledged resources for those students who need help to graduate. 

Kerry Mazzoni, Davis’ education secretary, said the administration wants to “close that gap” and help children in the lowest-performing schools. 

Davis’ proposed 2001-2002 budget includes $220 million for the state’s lowest-performing schools, which are also a focus of several bills being proposed by lawmakers.  

However, lower revenues caused by a slowing economy may jeopardize any extra money. 

While it approved lower scores this year, the board said it will increase the grades needed to pass as high school improve and students get used to the test, which state officials call the nation’s hardest. 

“We have a world-class high school exit exam here,” state board President Reed Hastings said. 

State Superintendent of Public Education Delaine Eastin’s department put test questions on its Internet site Thursday to show parents, teachers and students what the exam is like.  

Scores for schools and districts will be posted on the site in  


The class of 2004, the students who are completing ninth grade, will be the first required to pass the test to graduate.  

About 378,000 of those 480,000 ninth-graders voluntarily took the test for the first time in March and May. 

At the passing scores approved Thursday, about 40 percent of students taking the test – about 32 percent of all ninth-graders – passed both math and English, Hastings said. 

Sixty-five percent passed English, and 45 percent passed math.  

Those who didn’t pass one or both parts have eight more chances before their scheduled 2004 graduation date and only have to take the part they didn’t pass. 

In the state’s lowest-performing high schools, however, only 32 percent passed English and 8 percent math.  

Only 23 percent of blacks and 25 percent of Hispanics passed math, compared to 71 percent of Asians and 64 percent of whites. 

If the passing levels had been set at 70 percent, only 1 percent of students in the lowest-performing schools would have passed math. 

Eastin recommended the lower passing grades and said flunking 99 percent of those students would have left the state open to lawsuits by parents who would say their children lacked a fair chance to learn. 

Courts in other states have ruled that students cannot be penalized on such high-stakes tests if they were never taught the subjects covered. 

California’s high school test includes algebra, which not all districts have previously required for graduation.  

A new state law, effective with the class of 2004, requires algebra. 

The test has already drawn one suit.  

A disability rights group last month sued the state in federal court, saying it failed to provide an alternate test or accommodate three dyslexic teens. 

State lawmakers have also been concerned about whether the class of 2004 is sufficiently prepared, since its students have not benefited fully from reforms of the past few years.  

The Senate last winter passed a bill, later withdrawn, that would have postponed the test for a year. 

A new bill moving through the Legislature and backed by Davis calls for the state board to decide by August 2003, after seeing results of an independent study, whether to postpone the test. 


Here are preliminary results from the state’s high school test, as given in March to about 378,000 ninth-graders: 


English Passing Score  

of 60 percent 

All students passing:  

65 percent 

Blacks: 49 percent 

Asians: 77 percent 

Hispanics: 48 percent 

Whites: 82 percent 

English learners: 30 percent 

Special education: 22 percent 

Lowest-performing schools:  

32 percent 

Poor: 46 percent 


Math Passing Score  

of 55 percent  

All students passing:  

45 percent 

Blacks: 23 percent 

Asians: 71 percent 

Hispanics: 25 percent 

Whites: 64 percent 

English learners: 17 percent 

Special education: 12 percent 

Lowest-performing schools:  

8 percent 

Poor: 26 percent 

English Passing Score of 70 percent  

All students passing:  

47 percent 

Blacks: 29 percent 

Asians: 61 percent 

Hispanics: 27 percent 

Whites: 66 percent 

English learners: 11 percent 

Special education: 11 percent 

Lowest-performing schools:  

15 percent 

Poor: 25 percent 


Math Passing Score of  

70 percent  

All students passing:  

25 percent 

Blacks: 9 percent 

Asians: 52 percent 

Hispanics: 9 percent 

Whites: 37 percent 

English learners: 6 percent 

Special education: 5 percent 

Lowest-performing schools:  

1 percent 

Poor: 11 percent 



On the Net:  

Read about the high school test and see sample test items at http://www.cde.ca.gov/statetests/hsee/hsee.html 

Read the bill, AB1609 by Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, D-Montebello, at http://www.sen.ca.gov