Each year the CAHSEE was in effect, the state contracted with the Human Resources Research Organization, or Hum RRO, an independent evaluator, to review results. But in its last report in 2014 the Hum RRO evaluation noted that “passing rates for economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, and African-American students continue to be significantly lower than passing rates for white and Asian students at all grade levels.” In 2013-14, the overall pass rate was 95.5 percent, which on its face sounded impressive.
But in a state the size of California, just a few percentage points of failing students translates into tens of thousands of students being sent into the world without a high school diploma, which could handicap them throughout their lives, and also have long-term economic repercussions for the state.
Other concerns related to the exam’s impact on historically disadvantaged students.
Critics argued that more affluent students typically had greater access to higher quality instruction, or could afford private test prep classes and other resources, and were more likely to be able to pass the test than some of their lower income peers.
In fact, the content students were tested on in the exam was set relatively low — between an 8th- and 10th-grade level.
But, after the state adopted the Common Core standards and began testing students on them in the spring of 2015, as part of an overall push to raise academic standards, lawmakers concluded that the exit exams were were no longer sufficiently aligned with instruction in California schools.But, he wrote, “I’ve always believed that our assessment and accountability systems need to be coherent and avoid duplicative and unnecessary testing, and the current version of the high school exit exam is neither aligned to our standards nor essential to the development of our new accountability system.Whether or not an exit exam should be part of our evolving assessment and accountability systems is worthy of debate. If eligible to take the test, you can earn the legal equivalent of a high school diploma by passing the CHSPE.The CHSPE consists of two sections: an English Language Arts section and a Mathematics section.In some districts students were issued with a “certificate of achievement” in lieu of a diploma, but those did not have the same value in applying for jobs or getting into college.Since 2015, the state has allowed students who had failed the exam to apply to receive their diplomas retroactively, as long as they completed all required coursework or other graduation requirements.A 2009 study by Stanford University professor Sean Reardon and UC Davis professor Michal Kurlaender found that the exit exam “has had no positive effects on students’ academic skills.” At a time when the thrust of many education reforms is to increase graduation rates, and promote college and career readiness, an exit exam is increasingly viewed as counterproductive.That appears to be the case in California, where Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, introduced the bill that will remove CAHSEE from the California education lexicon for good.Soon thereafter, the Legislature abolished the exit exam as a graduation requirement.But it did so for only three years — through the current school year — to give the state time to decide whether to replace it with another test more aligned with California’s current academic standards.