California Supreme Court revives High School Exit Exam

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 The on-again, off-again requirement that California high school seniors must pass the High School Exit Exam is back on again, after the California State Supreme Court today granted the state's request that the court stay a lower court's decision to stop schools from requiring the test.

Lawyers for State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell asked for the stay after Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman ruled May 12 that the test requirement was unfair and unconstitutional, and forbade the state's schools from using it as a graduation requirement. O'Connell's lawyers also asked the Supreme Court to hear their argument that the Court should endorse the test and overturn Freedman's ruling, but the Court sent the case down to the 1st District Court of Appeal for hearings.

"I am extremely pleased that the Supreme Court has reinstated the California High School Exit Exam as a condition for graduation," O'Connell said after the decision was announced. "As a result, school districts can continue their graduation exercises as planned before this litigation began."

Arturo Gonzalez, lead counsel for the students who challenged the test in court, told the James Logan Courier, "Our clients are disappointed in today's 4-3 split decision of the California Supreme Court. However, this fight is not over. We intend to seek immediate relief in the court of appeals in San Francisco. We are hopeful that oral argument can be scheduled in time to obtain an order that would allow the Class of 2006 to graduate."

O'Connell said he's instructing school districts to withhold diplomas from those who haven't passed the test. "I will communicate with districts today to ensure they are aware that the exit exam is a graduation requirement," he said. " Students who have worked hard to pass this exam will be given a diploma that signifies their mastery of essential skills in reading and math. I hope that this decision will give students in the class of 2006, their parents, and their schools certainty.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the court's decision. ""Today's ruling is a victory for the children of California and for our future as a state," said Schwarzenegger. "The exit exam ensures that our schools are living up to their responsibility by giving our students the skills and the knowledge they need to succeed in college and in the workplace. Postponement would have deprived us of the best tool we have to measure how well schools are doing their job."

The ruling affects about 70 students at James Logan High School who haven't passed either the math or language arts portions of the test, or both. As many as 47,000 are affected statewide.

"It's crazy, I want to cry," said Zuhal, a senior who hasn't yet passed the test after she heard the news. Then she started crying.

Raymond, a senior who has had trouble with the math portion of the test, said he had made plans for graduating based on Freedman's banning of the test. "I'm really disappointed," he said. "I feel really bad. They should cancel it right now. Graduation day is too near."

Both students took the test earlier this month, but won't know if they passed until August 15, said Ray, too late to receive a diploma with their classmates.

"The Supreme Court did not say that Judge Freedman was wrong. Four justices simply questioned whether allowing our clients to graduate was the appropriate remedy," said Gonzalez, "We intend to demonstrate that the relief was proper. If the constitutional rights of our children are violated, we cannot punish them further by depriving them of a diploma that they have rightfully earned by passing all required courses."

O'Connell said students who haven't passed the test would have more opportunities. "We will not give up on the students who are still struggling to pass," O'Connell said, " They will continue to be given every option to master those skills they will need in order to succeed beyond high school."

O'Connell said he looked forward to arguing the case in the appellate court. ""In sending this case to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court has provided us an opportunity to argue the merits of this case," he said.

O'Connell, who wrote the law when he was a state legislator in 1999, said the test is an important ingredient in California's school reform efforts. "We know, and look forward to sharing with the court, that as a result of the exit exam, our students have studied harder and learned more than they would have otherwise," he said. "Schools, administrators, school board members, parents, and even policy makers here in Sacramento paid more attention to the needs of students who were falling behind their peers.

"Today’s court action marks an important step for school accountability. I will continue to fight to make sure every student who graduates in California has the skills necessary to succeed," he said.

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Sources

The author releases this story to Wikinews under the Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Patrick Hannigan. "Supreme Court Reinstates Exit Exam Requirement" — The James Logan Courier, May 24, 2006

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.