District attempts to help failing ’07 seniors pass test

Twenty percent of the incoming senior class within the San Francisco Unified School District — a total of 882 students — have failed the state’s exit exam — a standardized test that public school students are required to pass in order to get a diploma.

Those students will be integrated into a “districtwide initiative” to help pass the test by their June 2007 graduation, according to San Francisco’s assistant superintendent of high schools, Margaret Chiu. Students who have not passed the high-stakes test are given extra test tutoring during an elective period or after school, she said.

Students first take thetest in their sophomore year and then have four more chances — two during junior year and two in senior year — to retake the test in hopes of passing before graduation.

The test has two parts: a math portion, which tests up to an eighth-grade math level, and an English Language Arts portion, which tests up to the 10th-grade level of knowledge. The class of 2006 was the first group required to pass the test, known as the California High School Exit Exam, or CAHSEE, in order to be awarded a diploma.

According to San Francisco school officials, nearly 80 percent of The City’s incoming seniors have passed both required portions.

Classes taken between the sophomore and the senior years, along with remediation, have seemingly helped some students who failed the test as sophomores pass in time to get a diploma with their peers. Two years ago, 25 percent of the class of 2006 had not passed the exit exam. By the recently passed June graduation date, however, that percentage had narrowed to approximately 10 percent.

This school year, districts will receive $500 for each student who has not yet passed the test to support the remedial program, according to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

So far, state education officials have only announced the numbers of students in the class of 2007 and the class of 2008 who have passed the English portion of the test and the number of students who have passed the math portion of the test — but not the cumulative number of students who have passed both sections. That data will be provided in October, according to O’Connell.

Within San Francisco’s class of 2008, the incoming juniors who took the test for the first time last year, 76 percent passed the math portion of the test and 74 percent passed the English portion of the test. The students performed slightly better on the math portion than students statewide, 75 percent of whom passed,and worse than the 77 percent of California students who passed the English portion of the test.

Within the San Francisco Unified School District, as well as statewide, a disproportionate amount of the students failing the exit exam are black, Hispanic, low-income and/or those students designated as English-language learners. It also includes special education students, who were given a one-year exemption from the test for the senior students this last school year.

The high number of minority and low-income students failing the test has supported exit exam critics’ assertion that it unfairly denies a diploma to these subgroups of students, who historically have received their education in schools with less resources, including fewer qualified teachers, data has shown.

In supporting the test, Russlyn Ali, director of education at Trust West, a nonprofit policy organization, noted in a press statement Tuesday that one positive aspect of the test is that it has “brought about more focus, change and targeting of resources to our lowest-performing high schools.”

beslinger@examiner.com

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