Districts struggle to help students pass exit exam

While most seniors in San Mateo County’s class of 2006 passed the California High School Exit Exam and earned their diplomas, school officials are developing strategies for students who don’t pass the first time — or by the end of their senior year.

Countywide, more than 200 seniors did not pass the exit exam by the end of the 2005-06 school year, according to data collected from school districts. Of those, at least 104 completed all other coursework required to graduate. Most of those who did not pass the exit exam are students still learning English or who have mental or learning disabilities, according to Cheryl Milner, assistant superintendent for educational services in the South San Francisco Unified School District.

Local results mirrored those seen throughout the state in data released by the California Department of Education on Tuesday.

“I remain troubled by the persistence of the achievement gap among several subgroups,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said in a news conference Tuesday. He added that the statewide first-time passing rate for English-language learners had dropped 4 percent among 10th-graders taking the English portion of the exam, and 1 percenton the math side.

All of San Mateo County’s high schools offer courses to help students bone up on exit-exam essentials. If students don’t pass the first time they take it, in 10th grade, they can take “intervention” English and math courses during the school day and sign up for tutorial sessions before or after school, according to Jeannie Kwong, director of assessment for the San Mateo Union High School District.

In the South San Francisco, Jefferson and Sequoia districts, seniors were allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies last June if they met all other requirements but didn’t pass the exit exam. Both Jefferson and South San Francisco offered those students certificates of completion, while Sequoia and San Mateo did not.

Seniors who don’t pass their classes often return for a fifth year of high school regardless of the exit exam, according to Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Gary Johnson. But districts aren’t yet tracking those who earned everything but a passing exit-exam score, and have the option of going on to community college or adult school and taking the exam three times per year until they pass. They can also seek a GED.

Some, nevertheless, hope that students will pursue the exit exam even after their graduating class has come and gone.

“I met several summer school students who said, ‘We want to pass this test. We’re not going to expect a free ride,’” said Brandon Lee, coordinator of research and evaluation for the Sequoia Union High School District. “They said, ‘I know I failed, but I want to do well.’”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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