CA could suspend high-school exit exam

common core

State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, has introduced Senate Bill 172, which “would remove the high school exit examination as a condition of receiving a diploma of graduation or a condition of graduation from high school for each pupil completing grade 12” for the graduating classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018.

The bill also would “convene an advisory panel consisting of specified individuals to provide recommendations” to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, including the existing exam and “alternative pathways to satisfy specified high school graduation requirement.”

As Robert Oakes, Liu’s legislative director, explained to the education publication Cabinet Report, “It’s not clear that the results of the exam have been an indicator that students are really mastering all of the skills and tools they need to be proficient.”

And given that 95.5 percent of 418,000 high-school students passed the exam in 2014, he said, “the data doesn’t seem that persuasive” to keep it going. “We just haven’t seen that we’re getting the intended results compared to the costs.”


According to Education Week Teacher, “the state spends $72.5 million a year directly for the test, and many millions more on test preparation.”

Another factor is the state is switching to a new general-assessment system. The old Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) system has been shelved. It is being replaced by the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. CASPP, according to Cabinet Report, “features a computer-based test aligned to the Common Core and developed over the past four years by a coalition of states called the Smarter Balanced consortium.”

It’s also possible the CASPP given to 11th graders could become a high-school exit exam.

“I think it’s important that we have a high-school exit exam to encourage students to concentrate on their studies and not get distracted,” Lance Izumi told us; he’s Koret Senior Fellow and senior director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute. “Getting rid of the exit exam would take another accountability device of the table.”

“The state still has problems getting students ready for college,” he added.

KPCC reported, “According to the most recent numbers, one in three freshmen entering the California State University system in fall of 2012 failed the math test that measures whether they’re ready for college work. About the same proportion failed the English test.

“To help them catch up, Cal State spends about $30 million every year on remediation courses.”

Izumi said the STAR exam worked for more than a decade along with the exit exam, and the same arrangement could be made the new CASPP exam system. “A high-school exit exam maintains certain benchmarks for students to meet,” he said. “They’re not high, but the help the students concentrate on certain goals.”

Common Core controversy

Common Core itself has been controversial nationally, but not so much in California. Some states that adopted the national standards have dropped them, charging the standards are too lax.

But Gov. Jerry Brown and the California education establishment have embraced Common Core. However, the Jan. 29 Orange County Register reported the Common Core testing price tag is clocking in at $1 billion a year, with local districts asking the state to pick up the tab.

Current tests are with paper and pencil, but the new CASPP is taken by students on computers.

“This computer thing is a whole different deal than the No. 2 pencil,” said Superintendent Rick Miller of Santa Ana Unified. “You have to reimburse the mandate based on that.”

John Seiler

John Seiler

John Seiler has been writing about California for 25 years. That includes 22 years as an editorial writer for the Orange County Register and two years for, where he is managing editor. He attended the University of Michigan and graduated from Hillsdale College. He was a Russian linguist in U.S. Army military intelligence from 1978 to 1982. He was an editor and writer for Phillips Publishing Company from 1983 to 1986. He has written for Policy Review, Chronicles,, Flash Report and numerous other publications. His email: [email protected]

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