Percentage of S.F. seniors passing exit exam falls

When The City’s public high school students received diplomas a few months ago, hundreds did not graduate because they had not passed the state’s exit exam — a larger percentage than the previous year.

Education officials noted that for the first time special education students were required to pass the California High School Exit Exam, or CAHSEE, in order to graduate — a mandate that sunk local and state graduation rates.

Among San Francisco 12th graders scheduled to graduate in May 2008, 90.6 percent passed the exit exam, compared with 93.8 percent in the Class of 2007. However, 48.7 percent of seniors in special education passed; without them, the overall pass rate would have been 95.5 percent, according to the San Francisco Unified School District.

The district’s passing rates mirrored the overall state: the rate for California seniors fell from 93.3 for the Class of 2007 to 90.2 for 2008, according to state data.

In San Francisco’s Class of 2008, 237 students failed to graduate because they didn’t pass the exit exam, according to Baje Thiara, CAHSEE supervisor for SFUSD. Of those, 148 were special-education students and 57 were English-language learners who weren’t yet academically fluent, Thiara said.

The high school exit exam has only been a graduation requirement since 2006; however, disability-rights activists fought to exclude special-education students and won a temporary exemption that expired this year.

Two new state bills seek to reinstate that exemption.

Local special-education parents continue to feel the requirement is unfair.

“It isn’t that we have low expectations for the kids, but simply mandating they pass the test is not going to make them pass it,” said Katie Franklin, a member of SFUSD’s special-education citizens advisory council.

In some cases, students know the material but their disability makes it difficult to perform on the test; in other cases, students aren’t getting classroom training they need to ace the material, Franklin said.

Starting in the 2008-09 school year, 9th-graders in all San Francisco high schools will take an exit-exam “prototype” designed to show where students will need extra education to help prepare them for the live test in their sophomore year, according to the district’s superintendent Carlos Garcia.

Despite the overall district decline in the percentage of seniors that passed the CAHSEE, a handful of high schools saw significant gains among their 10th-graders, including Balboa High School.  Additionally, the school’s black and Latino 10th-graders passed the exit exam at significantly higher rates than their peers across San Francisco, according to the CDE.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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