Mountain View Voice

Opinion - April 11, 2008

End the waffling on exit exams

Unless the state changes its rules, there will be some very disappointed students at graduation ceremonies this year. The reason: Those with learning disabilities who are otherwise good students will be forced to take the high school exit exam, a test many almost certainly cannot pass.

As a result, school officials say, rather than receiving a diploma from their high school, these students will get "certificates of completion," which is hardly enough recognition, considering their years of difficult classroom work.

The on-again, off-again exit exam requirement came about after the recent settlement of a lawsuit filed against the state by a rights group for the disabled. For the last two years, the group was able to get an exemption for students with learning disabilities, but failed to do so this year.

Without the exemption, a good number of the disabled students in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District may not be eligible to graduate with their peers this school year. Students get the chance to take the math and English portion of the exit exam up to six times between their sophomore and senior years, and must achieve a passing grade on both to be eligible to receive a diploma.

Last year, school officials say, 63 local students did not pass the exit exam test, including 33 from special education and 21 who qualified for the exemption. The district does not yet have a firm count of how many students may miss or fail the test this year, but expects to know in a few weeks.

All of this angst surrounding the test could vanish with a stroke of a pen from state Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell, who wrote the legislation requiring that all students take the exit exam when he was a state senator more than 10 years ago. The measure has proven highly controversial, and rightfully so, due to its absolute requirement that all students must pass to receive a diploma.

Mr. O'Connell is way off base on this one. It should be up to local teachers and administrators, not a rigid state law, to decide if some special needs students should receive a diploma. We are not calling for the state to abandon the exit exam, but it should provide a way for local educators to award a diploma if a student has completed all the requirements.

Most students with a learning disability work very hard just to attain the minimum requirements for graduation. To take away the credential showing they have reached that goal is hardly fair, which is why we urge Mr. O'Connell to exempt these learning-disabled students from the exit exam. It's the least the state can do to honor those who work so hard to achieve what other students can accomplish with very little effort.


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