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School Board Revises Exit Exam Policy By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday February 21, 2006

Berkeley students who don’t pass the high school exit exam may still walk with their peers on graduation day, the school board ruled Wednesday. 

Board members voted unanimously to support a proposal that grants seniors who meet all graduation requirements but have not passed the high school exit exam to participate in graduation ceremonies.  

The decision could affect as many as 74 Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students who are on track to graduate but have not yet passed the test. 

The test assesses proficiency in math and English language arts at a seventh- to 10th-grade level.  

Students still will not receive diplomas or certificates of completion, and they must meet a number of additional criteria. They must pass and enroll in enough classes to meet standard graduation requirements, they must to take the exam on all but one of the dates when it’s offered and must take advantage of after-school tutoring. 

Those who still do not pass by the end of the school year can re-test one more time after graduation. They are also eligible to enroll in summer classes at Berkeley High School or the Adult School. 

The proposal was designed to encourage students to continue striving to pass, said Educational Services Director Neil Smith in an item submitted to the Board of Education. 

Board Director Shirley Issel commended the motion. 

“It requires the administration to provide support to ensure that the students can succeed and it encourages students to continue striving to succeed,” she said. 

Board colleague John Selawsky agreed. 

“I think kids who do the work and meet our graduation requirements and have not yet passed (the test) should still be able to walk the stage with their peers,” he said. “To deny them is cruel and unusual punishment.” 

The board will hear a final proposal to change board policy at the next meeting.  

This year marks the first year California students must by law pass the exam to graduate. The law has prompted backlash from parents, students and teachers who say the test is unfair, particularly for disabled students and English language learners.  

A lawsuit settled last year prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant a year-long exemption to disabled students who don’t pass the test. On Feb. 8, a group of parents and students filed suit against the state Department of Education on behalf of general education seniors. It alleges that the exam is unfairly biased against English language learners, fails to analyze alternatives to the test and deprives students of a fundamental right to an education. 

While legal recourse is pending, schools in the Bay Area have devised alternatives to the state mandate to recognize the efforts of students who would otherwise graduate if not for the test.  

In Alameda, the Board of Education ruled in November that students who have not passed the test are eligible to take part in graduation ceremonies and earn a certificate of achievement. 

In Albany, Superintendent William Wong said the board is considering granting students concessions, though specific details have not been laid out.  

Staff members of the West Contra Costa Unified School District are drafting a plan comparable to Berkeley’s that would allow eligible seniors to walk on stage with their classmates, so long as they meet specific requirements and “show an effort to try to pass the test,” said district spokesman Paul Ehara.  

The district, which serves Richmond, Hercules, Pinole, El Cerrito, San Pablo and several unincorporated areas, may also consider granting some form of certificate, but Ehara said details have not been spelled out. 

A student from West Contra Costa is the chief litigant in the lawsuit filed Feb. 8 against the state DOE. She reportedly has a 3.84 grade-point average and is a top member of her class, but as an English language learner, she’s failed the test’s English language arts section. 

Ehara said the district has multiple measures in place to assist struggling students.  

“We’re on a 13-year plan for getting all students to pass the CAHSEE (the exit exam),” he said. “We have been doing a lot of work to help students get over this hurdle.”