Cancellation of High School Exit Exam Leaves College-Bound Kids in Limbo

California's July administration of the high school exit exam was cancelled, leaving many students no chance to graduate.

The San Francisco Board of Education voted unanimously to give diplomas to 107 high school students who have not met all their graduation requirements -- a move that goes against state law.

The vote follows a decision from the California Department of Education, which canceled the July administration of the high school exit exam. In a statement released Thursday, department officials said they are working with lawmakers to "pass legislation that would suspend the exit exam requirement for three years because the exam does not reflect the new state academic standards."

"Unfortunately, I think it was ended a little too early," Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, told KQED Friday.

The California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) is offered to students beginning sophomore year. There are several opportunities to take it, but some students struggle to pass and have to retake it. On Tuesday, faculty and students from San Francisco International High School showed up to the city's school board meeting, pleading for help.

"We need another opportunity to take the CAHSEE or we need a diploma," said Principal Julie Kessler.

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The group of San Francisco students who have not passed the exam represents just a small portion of the thousands of students in similar positions around the state.

According to state data, last summer 4,847 math tests were given with 1,286 (26.5 percent) students passing and 5,826 English Language Arts tests were given with 1,248 (21.4 percent) students passing. The stats represent students who took just a single exam and students who took both.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, around 30 students in the city have at least for now lost their chance to attend a four-year college this year.

"Our hope is that the few students who find themselves in this situation will only have to defer their dreams of attending the college of their choice for one semester," Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley told the Chronicle. “In the meantime, there are other options available to these students, including our California Community Colleges. I received excellent preparation at my local community college before attending university."

San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza said Tuesday, "We are absolutely with you [the students] on this particular issue."

But, he said, the district was not prepared to grant diplomas without knowing what requirements might replace the CAHSEE. He said if the district did this, there's a chance it would have to revoke the diplomas should the state decide on new requirements going forward.

Chiu agreed the legality of the situation remains unclear.

"This is uncharted territory," he said. "We don't know what happens when the state changes the rules midstream."

Chiu, along with others including California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, is trying to work with the public college and university systems to find a way to grant conditional admittance for those students caught in limbo.

"It's still an ongoing discussion," Chiu said.

Monday begins the final four weeks of the state's legislative session. Chiu said he's working with other lawmakers to expedite a solution.