Saturday, October 08, 2005

California Grudge Match: The Governator Vs. Exam Foes

On Friday, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger laid the smackdown on those seeking exemptions from California's "must pass" high school exit examination:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill Friday that would have given special education students a reprieve from the state's high-stakes exit exam.

The bill would have implemented a legal settlement between the California Department of Education and the Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates, which filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of special education students. The bill sent to the governor by the Legislature differed from the settlement, however, and drew objections from the state's school superintendent.

Schwarzenegger also vetoed a bill that would have eased the exit exam rules by allowing high school students to graduate without passing the test if they instead passed an alternative performance assessment.

Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said her bill would have made California's requirements consistent with 27 other states.

In his veto statement, the governor said the Bass bill would have sent a message to "students, parents, teachers and administrators that we do not expect students to achieve at the highest levels."

The special education bill was opposed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell because it altered the terms negotiated by his office and the attorneys for the students. Among other changes, the legislation extended the one-year delay to two years.

"It's clear the governor has high expectations for all students," O'Connell said. "The governor's veto says we won't lower standards."

The students in the class of 2006 are the first required to pass the California High School Exit Exam before they can receive a diploma.

Results for the exit exam released earlier this month showed that half of the roughly 35,000 special education students in this year's senior class had not passed the math section. About 45 percent have yet to pass the English portion.

About 65 percent of special education students in the class of 2006 have failed to pass both the math and English portions of the exit exam, according to a report released last week by Human Resources Research Organization, which assesses the test annually for the state. O'Connell's staff said they will have three more tries before graduation.

"It's really a terrible day for students with disabilities in California," said Roger Heller, a staff attorney with the Oakland-based advocacy group.

He said he expects the delay to happen, despite the veto, because "there are significant problems" with how the state has been educating students with special needs.

In the meantime, he said, "this is going to require litigation, which is time-consuming and costly. And you're talking about tens of thousands of kids that face a great deal of uncertainty."

O'Connell said lawmakers could take up the issue again in January as an urgency measure. If approved, would take effect before the end of the school year.

The settlement allowed for special education students in the class of 2006 to request an exemption.

The students would have to show they have taken the exit exam at least twice since their sophomore year and at least once during their senior year. They also would have to take remediation classes if offered by their district.

Schwarzenegger said the version passed by lawmakers altered the legal settlement and would "send the wrong message" to special education students. The bill would have doubled the length of the delay from one year to two. Instead of requiring students to take remedial courses during their senior year, the bill only would have required school districts to offer those classes.

The exit exam has come under fire from some education groups and legislators, who say it also discriminates against students who attend lower-achieving schools and those for whom English is not their primary language.
As we recently reported, State Superintendent O'Connell is attempting to implement his own set of criteria for allowing non-passers of the test (known as the CAHSEE) to collect their diplomas, thereby circumventing the purpose of the exit exam.

That's why I find it strange that he supported Schwarzenegger in this veto.

Democrat O'Connell's dislike of Republican Schwarzenegger is well known, as can be seen by
these remarks. So once again, we find that politics makes for some awfully strange bedfellows.
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