The state of California has now officially banned the California High School Exit Exam (also known as CAHSEE). Assembly Bill 830 was signed into law by state Governor Jerry Brown on October 10, 2017, which scraps the graduation requirement for high school students which had been in place since 2006.
The aim of CAHSEE was to ensure that students graduating from California’s public schools were able to demonstrate competency in reading, math and writing before entering the workforce or higher education. The content of the CAHSEE was set between an eighth to tenth grade level. Since its implementation, over five million students have completed the exam.
Before it was formally abolished this month, the CAHSEE was suspended by Senate Bill 172 effective January 1, 2016 due to administrative challenges and various changes in academic standards. The suspension was put in place to allow the state time to consider whether CAHSEE should be replaced by a more suitable exam. But with the formal abolition of the CAHSEE this month it was determined that no replacement exam will be introduced.
Part of the difficulty with the CAHSEE arose when California adopted the Common Core standards in 2015 in order to raise academic standards in the state. Once testing on the Common Core began, lawmakers and educators concluded that the exit exams did not sufficiently cover the method of instruction being carried out in the schools.
There were also concerns that the CAHSEE negatively impacted those students who were historically disadvantaged, such as minorities, as opposed to students from wealthier families. More affluent students had access to private tutoring and better academic resources, allowing them to score better than their less affluent peers.
To ensure that the exit exam results were not skewed along socioeconomic lines, the California school boards worked in conjunction with the Human Resources Research Organization (HRRO). In its 2014 report, the HRRO noted that students from lower income families, and those of Hispanic and African-American descent, had significantly lower passing rates than their Caucasian or Asian peers. The HRRO concluded that this prevented those students from graduating and moving into higher education and the workforce.
Tom Torlakson, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, stated that the exit exam was outdated and unnecessary and that there were better ways to ensure that public school students are adequately prepared for the workplace and higher education. Torlakson was a vocal advocate for abolishing the CAHSEE and recommended that the state Legislature not implement a replacement exit exam.
There is also further evidence that exit exams do not create positive benefits for students. The Manhattan Institute noted in a 2004 report that exit exams had no positive impact on increasing graduation rates. This perception has led to many states abandoning exit exam.
California is only the latest state to abolish exit exams for high school students. Today, only thirteen states require graduates to sit an exit exam, compared to five years ago, when twenty-four states had such an exam in place.
Some students who successfully completed the CAHSEE were issued a Certificate of Achievement in place of a high school diploma; however, many critics noted that the Certificate of Achievement did not carry the same weight as a diploma in terms of applying to colleges and jobs. As of 2015, students who failed the CAHSEE were permitted to apply to receive a high school diploma retroactively, if they could demonstrate that they completed all other coursework and graduation requirements. This measure allowed more than thirty thousand students to receive a diploma retroactively.
Many educators have noted that, since implementing the CAHSEE, California has adopted new rigorous academic standards and better assessment methods, which make exit exams like the CAHSEE unnecessary.