Calif. State Superintendent Responds to Court Exit Exam Decision

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement in response to the Alameda County Superior Court ruling in Valenzuela v. O’Connell, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the California High School Exit Exam.

“I’m greatly disappointed in today’s court decision to halt the California High School Exit Exam as a graduation requirement for the Class of 2006. This is not only a great disappointment to me, it is a setback for students and hard-fought school accountability in the state of California.

“The preliminary injunction against California’s Exit Exam denies the vast majority of students in the Class of 2006 the opportunity to graduate with diplomas that certify mastery of essential skills in reading and math.

“It’s bad news for California students who have worked hard to pass the Exit Exam, for employers who want meaning restored to high school diplomas, and for our public schools that have risen to the challenge of preparing students to pass the exam.

“We will continue to fight the case of Valenzuela v. O’Connell. I have directed our attorneys to immediately appeal this ruling, and to seek a stay of the judge’s order.

“My most immediate concern is the chaos this decision creates in school districts throughout the state. There are students who are within days of graduation who are left with uncertainty over whether or not they will be granted a diploma, whether or not they should enroll in summer school for remediation courses, and whether or not they should be planning to take the summer remediation of the exit exam. Administrators, teachers and staff at more than 1,100 California high schools are also preparing for high school graduation in the coming weeks by finalizing transcripts, planning ceremonies, and establishing remediation courses specifically designed for seniors who have not yet passed the exam.

“I want to bring certainty to our school districts, our students, and their families. In addition to pursuing ultimate resolution of this case in the most expeditious manner possible, I have asked our attorneys to seek an immediate stay of today’s decision. I believe strongly that until the final resolution of this case, the law of the land should reflect the desire of the legislature, the Governor, myself, and the vast majority of Californians who have unequivocally stated their desire to have an exit exam as a condition of receiving a high school diploma.

“Ninety percent of California’s high school seniors have passed this exam, and we are still waiting to see the results from the tests that were administered in March and May, so that number is expected to rise. Those who have passed include students learning the English language, students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, students attending the lowest-performing schools and the highest-performing schools in our state.

“The exit exam has caused students to work harder, do better in school, and it has ensured that students who are struggling to learn get the help they need to learn critical skills in reading and math. We know that as a result of the exam, students who are English learners and others who have lagged behind their peers in school have been given the extra assistance they need to learn those skills.

“We do no favors to students who have not mastered basic skills by handing them a diploma. We can better serve those students by helping them to complete their education. I look forward to appealing this case so that at the end of the legal day, the exit exam will stand as an important measure of accountability in California schools.”

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