California’s High School Exit Exam Results

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 03, 2009 - 12:16:00 PM

California’s High School Exit Exam results released today show a higher success rate in English and math for first-time test takers in the Berkeley public high schools compared with the rest of the state, but the achievement gap persists. 

The numbers are an improvement over last year, when passing rates for those taking the exit exam for the first time in the Berkeley Unified School District were lower than the state numbers in math and only slightly higher in English.  

California public school students must pass both sections of the CAHSEE to get a high school diploma and are required to take it for the first time in 10th grade. 

If students fail to pass the test during their first attempt, they can take the test twice in 11th grade, and, if they are unsuccessful, they get five more opportunities as seniors.  

Students who do not pass both the English language and math sections of the exit exam by the end of their senior year can continue to take the exam until they meet both requirements.  

Data posted on the state Department of Education website shows that of the 836 Berkeley Unified 10th graders who took the English test in 2008-09, 678 or 81 percent passed, compared with 79.2 percent statewide. 

In 2007-08, 779 Berkeley 10th graders tested in English, out of which 623 (80 percent) met the CAHSEE requirement compared with 78.8 percent statewide. 

The state department reports that of the 831 Berkeley Unified 10th graders who tested in math in 2008-09, 663 or 80 percent passed, compared with 79.8 percent statewide. 

In 2007-08, of the 772 Berkeley sophomores who tested in math, 578 (75 percent) passed compared with 78.3 percent in California. 

Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett said that he was happy that the exit exam results were “overall a little better,” but added that a lot of work still needed to be done to close the achievement gap. 

“The exit exam is a very important indicator of having basic academic skills,” he said. “We can’t afford to take the results lightly.” 

At Berkeley High, of the 817 who took the English test in 2008-09, 671 or 82 percent passed. This is a jump of one point from last year. 

Ninetey-seven percent of white 10th graders passed the test this year, followed by 85 percent of Asian, 70 percent of Hispanic or Latino and 65 percent of black 10th graders. 

Of the 815 Berkeley High sophomores who tested in math in 2008-09, 655 or 80 percent passed. Last year only 76 percent of 10th graders met the math CAHSEE requirement. 

Ninety-eight percent of white 10th graders passed the math test this year, followed by 89 percent of Asian, 74 percent of Hispanic or Latino and 57 percent of black sophomores. 

Of the 12 10th graders who tested in English at Berkeley Technology Academy in 2008-09, only one student passed. 

Of the 22 sophomores who tested in the English language in 2007-08, 13 met CAHSEE requirements. 

The California Department of Education website did not report pass rates for the 10 B-Tech sophomores who took the math test in 2008-09 because privacy issues prevent the state from publishing results for 10 or fewer students. 

In 2007-08, 18 sophomores tested in math, out of which eight passed the test.  

When asked about the low numbers of test takers at B-Tech for both subjects, Huyett said that the school had fewer 10th graders than 11th or 12th graders. 

Approximately 90.6 percent or 432,900 California public school students in the class of 2009 passed both the English language and math portions of the CAHSEE by the end of their senior year, which is slightly higher than the 90.4 percent pass rate for the class of 2008. 

About 45,000 students in the class of 2009 have not yet met the CAHSEE requirement. 

Although the state data shows that an increasing number of students are passing the exam on their first attempt, the achievement gap continues to exist. 

Data from the graduating class of 2009 in California indicates that African-American and Hispanic students continue to fall behind their Asian and white fellow students when it comes to passing the CAHSEE. 

However, one bright spot is that when comparing first-time test takers of the class of 2008 with those of 2011 statewide, there is a slight narrowing of the achievement gap. The achievement gap between Hispanic and white students decreased in English by 3.6 percent and in math by 5.2 percentage points. 

The gap between African-American and white students in English decreased over the same period by 2.2 percentage points and in math by five percentage points. 

State Superintendent of Public Education Jack O’Connell said that the billions of dollars in state education budget cuts meant that school districts would now have to do “more for less.” 

O’Connell also criticized the agreement made between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature during July’s budget negotiations, which says that special education students will no longer have to take the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement.     

“This action represents an irresponsible and shortsighted shift in education policy that threatens to shortchange the quality of education for our students with disabilities,” O’Connell said. “Eliminating this requirement for students with disabilities who are on a diploma track does nothing to help prepare them for success after high school.”