Fewer High School Students Pass California's Exit Exam

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State education officials are applauding the latest results from the mandatory California High School Exit Exam. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more on the figures released on Tuesday.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Just over 90 percent of 12th graders had passed the exit exam by June's graduation ceremonies. Students who took the exam for the first time in 10th grade are passing at a higher rate than sophomores in previous years. That's good news, said state education superintendent Jack O'Connell.

Jack O'Connell: I'm extremely proud of all the students who have met the exit exam requirement. And I want to commend those students that have worked very hard, taking their studies very seriously, that successfully met the high school exit exam requirement.

Guzman-Lopez: The bad news? Pass rates vary widely between students from different ethnic groups. Almost 96 percent of white students in the class of 2008 passed the exam by June. That's a much higher percentage than that of their Latino and black peers. Students need to pass to earn diplomas.

The other bad news: only half of special education 12th graders this year passed the exit exam by June. Most of those students have learning, speech, and language disabilities. Attorney Sid Wolinsky of Disability Rights Advocates fought unsuccessfully in court to exempt them from the exit exam.

Sid Wolinsky: It's simply a disaster for children with disabilities. For children with disabilities it doesn't work, it punishes them, and it's bad educational and public policy.

Guzman-Lopez: Wolinsky said special ed students are at a disadvantage. Disabilities like dyslexia hamper their test-taking abilities, and schools don't spend enough time teaching these students the standards required of other students. State superintendent O'Connell said a California high school diploma must reflect a mastery of these basic skills.

O'Connell: It's part of our high expectations, high standards for all students, and I want all of our students, including special ed students, to have access to programs designed to help prepare students, you know for this new economy.

Guzman-Lopez: Wolinsky's group pushed education officials in Oregon to design an exit exam alternative for special education students there. An independent study is expected to reveal why so many of California's special ed students fail the exam.