A requirement for special-education students to take the California High School Exit Exam this year caused overall pass rates on the exam to drop both locally and statewide, according to an analysis from school district experts Wednesday.
The exam was created by state lawmakers to create a benchmark of achievement for California’s high school graduates. California began requiring high school students to pass the exit exam in order to graduate in 2006, and special-education students were given the same requirement this year. A little more than half of high school special-education students — 51.3 percent — passed both parts of the exam in 2008, compared with 53 percent statewide, according to data from the San Francisco Union High School District and the California Department of Education.
Local special-education scores caused San Francisco’s overall pass rates to drop from 92.3 percent in 2007 to 90.6 percent in 2008, compared with statewide rates of 93.2 percent and 89.7 percent in those same years.
"When kids can’t pass the exam and graduate, their life chances at success are really being cut off," said Tara Kini, an attorney with San Francisco-based Public Advocates, which has opposed exit-exam requirements for years.
Officials with the San Francisco Unified School District reserved the right to comment until after speaking with the district’s experts late Wednesday.
Opponents have fought the requirement for all students, particularly disadvantaged students, since 2002. Special-education students currently are allowed to take the exam with a number of modifications, or request a waiver, according to the California Department of Education.
Many members of the SFUSD’s special-education citizens advisory council opposed the exit exam requirement because they felt the test was an unfair evaluation for disabled students, said council member Rachel Norton, a candidate for San Francisco Board of Education this fall.
"On the one hand, you want accountability, but for some of these kids, it’s pretty difficult for them to take tests," Norton said.
However, when students take the test with modifications, such as using a calculator for the math portion, they’re considered "nonparticipants" — which lowers a district’s overall pass rate, said Rick Boitano, associate superintendent in the Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City.
Jefferson, like the SFUSD, saw its exit-exam passing rates fall this year when compared with last year, Boitano said. Peter Burchyns, spokesman with the San Mateo County Office of Education, said he expected similar drops across the Peninsula.
"This doesn’t imply that there’s some lessening in the quality of the program … it reflects a change in the population of students taking the test," Burchyns said.
Examiner Staff Writer Katie Worth contributed to this report.
51.3 percent Exit-exam pass rate in 2008 for SFUSD special-education students
53 percent Exit-exam pass rate in 2008 for state’s special-education students
1,926 Special-education students in SFUSD high schools, as of Dec. 1, 200707
19,046 Overall population of high school students in SFUSD, 2007-08
2,971 Special-education high school students in San Mateo County, as of Dec. 1, 2007
27,593 Overall population of high school students in San Mateo County, 2007-08
Sources: SFUSD, California Department of Education