Districts weigh options for seniors who don’t pass state exit exam

As graduation day looms, Peninsula high-school districts are debating whether students who don't pass the state exit exam will be given certificates of completion or allowed to participate in commencement ceremonies.

This is the first year California seniors are required to pass the exit exam in order to receive their diplomas. The move has earned resistance from some Bay Area school districts and sparked a handful of lawsuits, including one filed Monday by San Francisco-based Public Advocates Inc. seeking to block application of the test.

The San Mateo Union High School District board may decide tonight whether to offer its seniors certificates of completion if they don't pass the exit exam but complete all other requirements. The Sequoia Union High School District board was slated to decide the same issue Wednesday night, after press time.

While San Mateo probably won't allow non-passing students to participate in graduation ceremonies, Sequoia may. “It's a rite of passage,” Sequoia board president Gordon Lewin said. “For some people, it’s their last time together, sometimes with people they’ve known since kindergarten.”

San Mateo board member Peter Hanley and Superintendent Samuel Johnson in February opposed offering students a certificate of completion.

“I think it will lower the bar even further,” Hanley said Wednesday. “The entire system will devolve to that lower bar, rather than to the exit exam, which is already a very low bar.”

The California Department of Education reported that as of November 2005, 47,925 students statewide — 11.1 percent — had not passed the exit exam. In 2004-05, 72 percent of San Mateo County 10th- and 11th-graders earned a passing score.

Jefferson High School District recently voted to allow students who don’t pass the exam to receive a certificate and participate in graduation ceremonies — but only this year.

“We have to take it on a year-by-year basis,” said Gary Johnson, deputy superintendent of the Jefferson High School District. “Each year there’s a new issue that comes up.”

The West Contra Costa County Unified School District board this month voted 4-1 against a proposal that would have granted its high school students diplomas whether or not they passed the exit exam.

The SMUHSD board meets tonight at 7 p.m. at the San Mateo Adult Resource and Technology center, 789 East Poplar Ave.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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