Posted on June 9, 2006

For Some, Exit Exam Taints Rite Of Passage

Shirley Dang, Contra Costa Times, June 9, 2006

Richmond — During the bittersweet farewell to high school Thursday night, seniors Andrea Mallory and Liliana Valenzuela donned their red caps and gowns, ascended the steps of the Richmond Convention Center stage and grasped the hand of their principal.

After four years at Richmond High, both girls captured a spot on the honor roll. Both plan to attend college. Both dream of entering medicine; Mallory for physical therapy, Valenzuela for nursing.

When Mallory descended the wooden steps, she left proudly clutching a facsimile of the diploma she will pick up next week.

Valenzuela held her own certificate. But in a way, she left empty-handed. She does not qualify for a diploma after failing the English part of the high school exit exam — a denial she keenly felt during the ceremony.

“I am not OK with that,” Valenzuela said.

In what marks a historic moment in California education, nearly 42,000 seniors will not be eligible for a diploma this spring after failing the California High School Exit Exam, a rule that was enforced for the first time this year.

Some of those students lack enough credits for a diploma. However, from 9,000 to 22,000 students will not graduate with their class solely because of the test, according to a state Department of Education estimate.

At Richmond High, a brick compound in the heart of what is known as the state’s most dangerous city, nearly a third of the 346 students in the class of 2006 stumbled over the test, having to take it more than once. Paul Ehara, West Contra Costa school district spokesman, said 66 of them will not receive diplomas because of the exam.