Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2007
California education officials put forth artificially positive results on the number of students who passed the state’s controversial high school exit exam last year, according to a recent UCLA study.
The analysis also concluded that about 50,000 fewer students statewide earned diplomas last year compared to previous years, raising the prospect that the exit exam requirement is pressuring students to drop out. The decline in graduation rates was most pronounced in poor, heavily minority areas, the study found.
State education officials sternly defended the exit exam, criticizing Rogers’ methods and saying his calculations were flawed. Although the test had been in place for several years, 2006 was the first time that students had to pass the exam to receive a diploma.
According to official state results, by March 2006 about 88% of California’s high school seniors had succeeded in passing the two-part exam, which tests basic knowledge in math and English. (The final tally would eventually rise to more than 91% after late test takers were counted.) At the time, Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who has led the move for the testing requirement, hailed the results.
Rogers concluded, however, that the state exaggerated the success rate since it excluded large numbers of students from its calculations.
Based on the total number of students who were enrolled in school when the class of 2006 had its first chance to take the exam as sophomores, the actual passage rate is closer to 78%, according to Rogers. The state’s tallies neglected to count students who, for example, dropped out of school before passing the test and learning disabled students who were later exempted from the exam.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, enrolled more than 50,000 students as sophomores, but counted fewer than 30,000 seniors when it calculated the pass rate for the exit exam last year, according to the study.
Rogers further indicated a link between the exit exam and what he says was a precipitous drop in the number of students who earned a diploma last year. In L.A. Unified, for example, he concluded that only about 49% of the students who were enrolled as sophomores went on to graduate on time last year, while the rate was closer to 60% in previous years.
State and Los Angeles school officials flatly rejected the charge that they misstated the exit exam pass rates. Rogers based his conclusions on figures that captured only a static snapshot of enrollment and therefore do not accurately reflect those students who are still working to pass the exam and belatedly earn a diploma, they said. Students can try repeatedly to pass the exam, beginning in their sophomore year.
What is clear from state data, he said, is that students who attended schools in mostly poor, minority areas were often learning from relatively inexperienced teachers and in overcrowded classrooms.
As a result, the failure rate on the exit exam in these schools was significantly higher than at predominantly white, more affluent schools.