New hurdle for disabled students
Exit exam now required, but educators say test does not fairly assess students' abilities
New state regulations are making it harder for a handful of local high school students to graduate with a diploma this spring.
That's because, for the first time, California students with learning disabilities do not qualify for a high school diploma unless they pass the state exit exam. Before this year, such students were given exemptions which allowed them to receive diplomas upon completion of just the coursework.
After a lawsuit successfully challenged those exemptions, all students of the Class of 2008, including those in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District, must pass the math and English exam outright. The students have a total of six chances to take the test, and the last opportunity for this year's class comes in May.
If they do not pass, they will receive a "certificate of completion," indicating they took a full course of study, but no diploma.
Last year, 63 MVLA students did not pass the test, according to Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services for the high school district. Of those students, 33 were in special education, and 21 qualified for the exemption, she said.
Hilarey Davis, the district's director of special education, said that this year a number of special ed students still must pass the May exam to graduate. The district does not know the exact number, she said, since it is still waiting for results from the March exit exam.
Davis worries the test does not fairly assess students. Learning disabilities often prevent them from solving math problems or writing analytical essays on the exam, she said, but "These students are capable in many, many ways."
Although they can retake the exam even after their graduation date, and they can still go to trade schools and community colleges with a certificate of completion, the test results may discourage students from continuing their studies, Davis said.
"The only door that is closed is going directly to a four-year school," she said. "We are more worried about motivation. It is discouraging when we see them losing motivation because they are not passing."
Even as the number of special ed students in the district steadily increases, staff is working with them on remedial math and English in preparation for the tests. The district also has one-on-one tutoring for the students to help them with subjects essential to the exam.
"We work really hard with out students in remedial math and reading," Davis said.
Students with disabilities, both mental and physical, can apply to the board of trustees for modifications, such as a calculator or extended test time. But administrators say this is not enough for some.
Davis hopes students and future employers both understand that the certificate verifies that the student took a full course of study.
"I think the state has done a poor job in educating the public," she said. "They [the students] have completed all their regular classes. ... One will hope the employers understand they have achieved."
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