State schools chief to appeal California High School Exit Exam ban to state high court

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Friday, May 19, 2006 State schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell has his lawyers working "around the clock" to prepare to ask the State Supreme Court to overturn a lower court judge's ban on using the California State High School Exit Exam as a graduation requirement, he said today.

"In an effort to seek resolution of this issue as quickly as possible, I have asked my attorneys to appeal directly to the California Supreme Court," said O'Connell in a prepared statement, "They are working around the clock to prepare those papers, and we expect to file within 24 to 30 hours. This is a remarkably fast turnaround for an appeal of a ruling that was made less than a week ago."

Most appeals of a Superior Court decision go to an appellate court first.

Last Friday, Alameda County Superior Court judge Robert Freedman ruled against maintaining the California High School Exit Exam as a condition of graduation for the class of 2006, saying that the law requiring high school students to pass the test is unconstitutional because economically and racially disadvantaged students weren't offered equal educations and therefore didn't have an equal chance to pass.

In his statement, O'Connell acknowledged that some students need more help than others, but said the test should stand, anyway: "We know that some students at some schools need extra attention to overcome challenges brought to the classroom and challenges within the schools they attend. We agree those students must have every option available to them to learn the skills on the exam. But I strongly disagree that the remedy for students still struggling to pass the exam is to simply hand them a diploma whether or not they have learned what they need to know."

Arturo J. Gonzalez, the San Francisco attorney who persuaded Freedman to stop the use of the test, told reporters that Freedman had ruled correctly and that the state should give up and let the students graduate. "There is no basis for the Supreme Court to take diplomas away from 45,000 students who have passed all required courses," he said in an email exchange with the James Logan Courier. "To do that, they would have to find that Judge Freedman abused his discretion. Given the overwhelming evidence in support of his ruling, I do not think that any of the seven justices will find an abuse of discretion."

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supported O'Connell's bid to reinstate the test and would "put the full weight of my administration behind reinstating the California High School Exit Exam graduation requirement."

O'Connell, who wrote the law, wants the requirement to be enforced against this year's would-be graduates who haven't yet passed the test and so is set to ask the State Supreme Court to immediately stay Freedman's injunction to allow the state to withhold high school diplomas as originally planned. At last count, the ruling affects about 47,000 California Seniors, including about 70 from James Logan High School.

"The decision came as more than 1,100 California high schools prepare for graduation ceremonies," he said, "It created confusion and uncertainty not only for seniors in the class of 2006 but for juniors in the class of 2007."

Cynthia O'Brien, who oversees testing at James Logan High School, told The Courier she wants the confusion to end. "If the Exit Exam is going to go forward, then it needs to go forward. If not, then it needs to be cancelled completely," she said last week.

"Many students now wonder whether they should enroll in summer school or plan to take a summer administration of the exit exam," he said, "Administrators and teachers are left wondering whether students who need the extra assistance will bother to enroll. And students who should be buckling down to learn the skills they need to succeed in college or the workplace have now been told they can get a diploma whether or not they have those skills."

"It is our responsibility to all of California's children, especially our disadvantaged and minority students, to equip them with the most basic skills they will need in college, in work and in life," said Schwarzenegger. "Postponing the exam graduation requirement will hurt our children in the long run by depriving us of the best tool we have to measure how well schools are doing their job."

He said he's budgeted more money to help students pass the test: "My 2006-07 budget will add $7.7 million for three additional administration of the exam and we will also provide $65 million this year to give students at risk of failing the exam the support they need to pass it."

The high court has 90 days to decide whether to hear O'Connell's appeal once it's filed, but could act more quickly if it chooses.

This article is based on State Schools Chief Appeals High School Exit Exam Ban to State High Court by Patrick Hannigan of The James Logan Courier, which has a copyright policy compatible with our CC-BY 2.5. Specifically "Creative Commons 2.5 Share-Alike license"


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