Ruling expected today in California exit exam case

Posted by: ST on May 13, 2006 at 11:33 am

(Scroll down for the Saturday update – original time and date of this post was May 12 at 11:57 a.m. ET)

I blogged about this case earlier this week – the ruling on it is expected today. A preliminary ruling was issued Monday that signaled bad news for the state:

SAN FRANCISCO, May 9 — In two setbacks for high school exit exams, a judge in Oakland said Tuesday that he was inclined to ban such tests as a graduation requirement in California and a Massachusetts school board voted to issue diplomas to students who had failed such tests despite a state law prohibiting that.

In California, Judge Robert Freedman of Superior Court in Alameda County said in a preliminary ruling on Monday that the exams, standardized math and English tests that high school seniors have to pass to graduate, discriminated against impoverished students and students learning English.

On Tuesday, as thousands of students took a late round of tests, Judge Freedman heard arguments in favor of them, but indicated the state’s lawyers faced an uphill fight.

“The court is basically resolute in its original decision,” the judge said. He said he would issue his final decision on Friday.

Attorneys for the students argue that the state didn’t do everything it could to help the students pass the exit exam. The state’s argument, on the other hand (emphasis added):

Officials said they had done everything they could to help students adjust to the requirement, including delaying the California High School Exit Exam for several years. The law was passed in 1999, but the class of 2006 is the first to have to pass it to graduate.

A ruling against the exams could allow nearly 47,000 seniors who did not pass — more than 10 percent of the class — to graduate next month.

Opponents of the exams, which more than 20 states require, hailed the developments.

“It is a major victory, both substantial and symbolic,” said Robert A. Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a watchdog group in Cambridge, Mass. “It sends a message to other states that they should reconsider one-size-fits-all graduation tests.”

Translation: It’s not fair that the students who apply themselves more than others pass while others do not apply themselves fail.

One Massachusetts school board is dealing with a similar issue:

Such reconsideration is under way in New Bedford, Mass., south of Boston. On Monday, the school board there voted to issue diplomas to students who had fulfilled academic requirements but had not passed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which evaluates math and English skills at the 10th-grade level.

Gov. Mitt Romney called the decision a “gross mistake” and illegal.

“New Bedford is going to take corrective action,” Mr. Romney said, adding that the state could withhold more than $100 million in school money earmarked for the city.

You may be wondering, just what the minimum requirements to pass the CA exit exam are. Here’s your answer:

Mere weeks before high school graduations, Judge Robert Freedman of Alameda County Superior Court may stop before it starts the state’s essential mandate that high school graduates score at least 60 percent on a test of eighth-grade math and 10th-grade English.

High school seniors have to score a mere 60% or better on a test of 8th grade math and 10th grade English. If the arguments on behalf of the students attorneys are accurate – that the state didn’t supply them with all the tools they needed in order to pass 8th grade math and 10th grade English (we’re talking basic math and English skills) – then someone should have spoken up LONG before now.

Keep in mind that almost 90% of students from all kinds of backgrounds (poor, etc) have already passed this exam. What would a ruling in favor of the students who failed it mean to the idea that achievement is important? Debra Saunders provides the answer:

At issue is the larger question of whether schools exist to make children learn or to make children feel good. If Freedman decides that undereducated students can graduate because it’s not fair to deny them a diploma, Sacramento might as well give up on improving the schools.

The state might as well save itself some money, and issue an edict that says poor and immigrant students shouldn’t have to learn math and English — because it is not fair to expect them to achieve.


I’ll be on the lookout for Freedman’s official ruling, which as noted earlier is expected sometime today.

Saturday AM Update: As expected, Judge Robert Freedman ruled in favor of the students. Via the SF Chronicle:

An Alameda County Superior Court judge’s decision to strike down the state’s high school exit exam might thrill the nearly 47,000 seniors who haven’t yet passed the graduation test, but state educators hope to reverse the judge with an appeal next week.

The ruling by Judge Robert Freedman on Friday means that the state cannot carry out its plan to withhold diplomas for the first time from high school seniors who have satisfied all graduation requirements except one: passing the exit exam, a test of 7th- to 10th-grade English, math and algebra skills.

It’s an 11th-hour upset victory for thousands of low-income students and English learners, who now expect to be able to attend commencement exercises and graduate with their classmates in just a few weeks.

Lawyers representing students who had not passed the test sued the state on Feb. 8. The lawsuit claimed that many students have not had the opportunity to learn the material on the exit exam because they went to substandard schools with unqualified teachers, insufficient textbooks and squalid conditions.

Freedman agreed, saying, “Students in economically challenged communities have not had an equal opportunity to learn the materials tested.”

Freedman wrote in his opinion that the “record is replete” with evidence of California’s underfunded schools and said his decision applies to students statewide.

“The negative effects of (the) scarcity of resources continue to fall disproportionately on English language learners, particularly with respect to the shortage of teachers who are qualified to teach these students,” Freedman wrote.

Liliana Valenzuela, an 18-year-old senior from Richmond and the lead plaintiff in Valenzuela vs. California, was in an English class at Richmond High on Friday when she got a cell phone call informing her of the judge’s decision. Containing her excitement, she quietly told her teacher, then slipped from class to meet her lawyers.

“I feel very happy,” she said later in Spanish. “Now I’ll be able to have my diploma and fulfill my desire to become a nurse.”

Failure has been rewarded, courtesy of the Alameda County Superior Court.

What’s the point of even having an exit exam if you can fail it and still get your diploma?

As noted in the article, the state will appeal. But I don’t have high hopes that Judge Freedman will change his mind.


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  • 16 Responses to “Ruling expected today in California exit exam case”


    1. Mahwah says:

      A few days ago, the local paper, Arizona Republic, ran a front page story about the high school seniors that did not pass the minumum requirement test (here it’s called AIMS test) to graduate. They actually called the students ‘casualties’ of the testing program.8-|
      Of course, they ran a picture of a Hispanic girl with perfectly done hair, makeup, and nails as their poster-child victim of the discriminatory testing system that is, at it’s core, racist.

      In our current educational system, students that in previous years would have been ‘left back’ to repeat a grade due to poor achievement scores are now simply allowed to progress to the next grade in order to spare them the ‘psycological damage’ that would certainly ensue from such an action. This ‘must-feel-good-at-any-cost’ mentality that has become prevalent in our society is the primary reason we now have lowered expectations of achievement and a decline in societal values in much of this country.

    2. camojack says:

      “No Child Left Behind”, eh what? :-?

    3. Karl says:

      we have the WASL test here. It is takenin the 10th grade and is a requirement for graduation.

      The trouble is thatt the test was designed not by administrators and educators but by business leaders and other community people, so it is safe to assume it doesnt reflect realistic educational goals.

      That said, rather then fix it and show some reasonable stadard of learning, the democrats here suggested eliminating the WASL as well as paying for 2 years of college for everyone out of tax payer money.

      The governor here in one breath suggested funding a
      program to help kids pass it and then signed into law a bill that effectively just gutted it by proposing alternatives to the WASL.

      So the bottom line in Washington is HUH? I depends onwhichmout the speak out of.

    4. Karl says:

      darn my spelling.

      That should read “It depends on which side of the mouth they are speaking out of….”

    5. benning says:

      If the law says, “Pass the Exit Test or you do not graduate“, then no judge should be allowed to nullify the law, unless some Constitution – either State or Federal – gives him that power.

      Problems with the law? Take it to the Supremes. File suit at the Supreme Court level! Any judge who decides to negate a law, for any reason, when he does not have the Constitutional power to do so, should be immediately impeached. No exceptions!

      Enough of this type of Judicial Tyranny!

    6. blogagog says:

      I think thet testing for a hi school deploma is rediculus! All of us with the deploma ar smart, plane and simple. No tests ar requird.

    7. David Foster says:

      “whether schools exist to make children learn or to make children feel good”…neither one. They exist to provide employment for a set of people who are unwilling to deal with challenge, change, and responsibility.

      Yeah, I know there are many teachers, and possibly even a few administrators, who don’t fit this description, but they’re not the ones setting the tone of the institution.

    8. Severian says:

      karl opined: “The trouble is thatt the test was designed not by administrators and educators but by business leaders and other community people, so it is safe to assume it doesnt reflect realistic educational goals.

      Ah, that means it evaluates them on the basic, minimal skills necessary to hold a bottom rung job, and they can’t even pass that…what does that say for their ability to survive in the real world? Not to worry, there’s always welfare and food stamps paid for with our tax dollars.

      Wouldn’t the average, non-ideologically blinded person think that the skills necessary to get and hold a job are “realistic educational goals?”

      I suspect that Karl, like many others, sees the purpose of the schools, you know, the “realistic educational goals,” to be to indoctrinate them to the liberal/socialist mindset, and leave them lacking in job skills, so that they will forever be dependent on the state and are willing lemmings that automatically vote Democrat

    9. Ryan says:

      Why even bother testing at all? As long as they try hard that should be enough. We can’t have anyone with hurt feelings..


    10. sanity says:

      “I feel very happy” she said later in Spanish. “Now I’ll be able to have my diploma and fulfill my desire to become a nurse.”


      Remind me not to get health care where she is working.

      Is she going to sue to get the degree in college too when she can’t even pass basic math or english / writing skills?

      If you cannot pass a simple math or english test of the basic level, you have no reason to be graduating. Graduation means you have learned what they have taught you, and have become profecient enough with the skills to graduate. If you cannot pass the required tests, you should not be graduating, plain and simple.

      File this under another reason to home school, better education (if you actually do it), and more one-on-one time with your child where he/she doesn’t have to compete with a classroom full of kids, stress of running between classes, bullies, teasing, and sexual advances by their teachers or other students.

      It is all about what you want in the education of your child, and more and more I am seeing the public schools becoming a bastion for the leftists screed, the gay agenda (CA just had a vote ot put gay and lesbian documentation and achievements in school textbooks). The more I see and hear about this, the more I see the public school systems, and more of the colleges and universities becoming brainwashing tools for the left.

      Make sense, if you want people on your side, to vote for you, then you brainwash their children.

      Not a big fan of Michael Savage, but he essentially hit it on he head when he said he used to be a bleeding heart liberal when he was younger, (teens and 20’s) but then he grew up when he got to around 30 he became a staunch conservative.

      When you look at liberals, the majority of the screeching angry types, what age bracket do you normally see them in?

      The majority of conservative, what ages do you normally see them in?

      It is interesting when you start doing comparisons…..

    11. John Anderson says:

      Hmm. Looks like the schools had six or seven years to get these kids educated to basic levels a bit below the norm for twelfth grade. And failed. I wonder how many teachers were dismissed/hired during those years? How many administrators?

      About a year ago one Massachusetts community breathed a sigh of relief when a school administrator passed the High School Equivalency test of English — on his fourth try.

    12. sanity says:

      If you have to have certifications for many other jobs, like for Microsoft, Cisco, Computer Rapir, ect, why not for teaching?

      Shouldn’t you show that you have a basic understanding of what you are teaching fresh young minds?

    13. Mark says:

      Another story I read is that one of the student was happy now – she can go to the prom without knowing that she would not get a diploma.

      The fact that that our future nurse was on the honor roll means that she is intellegent. I believe the reason she cannot pass the english is that she has been taught that english literacy is not needed for sucess. Where did she learn this – our schools (I live in California).

      The judge is strangely right – Our schools are unequal because while the students have every opportunity to learn english, we have been teaching students that it is not important. This parallels the larger immigration problem, where we are telling (via our inaction) that it is ok to come to this country without learning english and without assimilating.

      Something about this doesn’t make sense. Someone with a 3.64 GPA takes the test as a sophomore, fails, takes the test twice, fails twice, takes the test three times as a senior, and fails three times?

      What makes sense to me is that either she is very stubborn about her belief that people should not need to learn english to get a diploma, or this is a legal setup from the start, and the plan was to get a smart and attractive subject to build a lawsuit around.

    14. L Davis says:

      One has to wonder how on earth this girl managed to earn such a high GPA when she has such difficulty with English. In what languages were her classes taughtif not in English? Did she not have to pass tests in her those classes in which she did so well? (Were those classes all Physical Education and art classes — or were the tests given in her native language?)
      Just how much opportunity is the state obligated to give immigrants or the poor?