Monday, April 24, 2006

The CAHSEE fight continues

By Kimberly Swygert

Opponents of California's state exit exam (the CAHSEE) have now
filed a second lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the withholding of diplomas from those seniors who fail the exam. Perhaps not surprisingly, while the first lawsuit was fairly broad with its complaints, this lawsuit focuses specifically on the exam issue:
While the lawsuit filed in February by the San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster alleges a wide array of wrong-doings by the state, the lawsuit filed this week by a public-interest law firm focuses on just one issue: the state's consideration of alternatives to the test that is a graduation requirement this year.

The suit filed in Alameda Superior Court by the Public Advocates law firm and Californians for Justice, an advocacy group that has fought the exit exam, alleges that state Superintendent Jack O'Connell and the state Board of Education broke the law by waiting until this school year to study alternatives to the test.

O'Connell and the Board of Education "dragged their feet until it was too late to implement any alternatives for this first class facing" the exam's consequences, the lawsuit states.
Assembly Bill 1609 - the law that created the exit exam system - states that the California BOE and state superintendent were to study possible alternatives to the exit exam after "the initial administrations" of the test. The issue here is whether it is acceptable for the state to not have completed a study in time for those students who are being held accountable for their test scores, although I couldn't find anything in the original bill which said that the state eventually has to provide alternatives (I'm no lawyer, so I may have missed it).

Regardless, it's difficult to tell whether those filing the second lawsuit are doing so because they genuinely want the state to investigate alternatives, or whether this is more of the same general loathing of high-stakes testing. The anti-testing contingent in California has gathered steam as the test has moved from pilot to operational;
in at least one school district in California, board members debated whether to obey the law at all, because one board member thought it "unfair" that one-fifth of the seniors in that district failed the exam. I agree completely - it is unfair that so many students with twelve years of school under their belt cannot pass what appears to be a test of at most tenth-grade level constructs (less than that for math).

What's more, while there are no testing alternatives in place, there are options in place for those students who fail the exam. As
stated on the CAHSEE website, students failing the exit exam can recieve further schooling and remedial instruction until they pass (up to age 22), and are free to obtain diploma alternatives. Why, one wonders, wouldn't this be good enough for those filing the lawsuits? Isn't additional schooling a better choice than a worthless piece of paper? Isn't the point of the diploma to demonstrate that the student receiving it has earned the knowledge consistent with it?

Who appears to be more geniunely concerned with the educational achievements of seniors in the state, those filing these lawsuits, or educational activists such as
Russlyn Ali of Education Trust West, who spoke out against testing alternatives earlier this year?, Superintendent Jack O’Connell did the right thing by holding the line on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), and declaring that there are no acceptable alternatives. The push towards alternatives might seem compassionate. But, staying the course on high school standards represents the truly compassionate path. We cannot continue to send students out into the world with pathetically low skills.
I'm hoping Ali's viewpoint will ultimately prevail.
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