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Cancellation of high school exam leaves students at a standstill
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High school students who are currently ineligible to attend college solely because they have not passed the California High School Exit Exam are holding their breath as the Senate is expected to vote on Monday whether or not the exam will be removed as a graduation requirement.

Senate Bill 725, which was gutted and amended earlier this week by author Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland), passed the state Assembly on Thursday with a 69-1 vote, following the uproar that resulted from the California Department of Education’s abrupt decision to cancel the CAHSEE in July after the contract with the testing company had expired.

As a result, the contract, which cost $11 million a year to administer, was not renewed and the July exam was not offered as it was in past years.

The state Assembly’s decision undoubtedly provided some relief to the approximately 5,000 Class of 2015 seniors throughout the state that have been left in limbo following the exam’s cancellation. Despite meeting all other prerequisites necessary to graduate, these students, who were planning to retake the CAHSEE in July, were unable to receive their diploma.

The cancellation quickly stirred up controversy throughout the state for many politicians, one of which was Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, who adamantly voiced her disapproval of the Department’s decision.

“As the result of a thoughtless bureaucratic blunder, thousands of high school graduates face the prospect of not being able to enroll in college, serve their country through the military, or pursue other professional goals,” said Harris. “This oversight creates real and immediate harm for these students.”

“I look forward to working with our state leaders to fix this injustice immediately and ensure our students are given the opportunity to pursue their educational and professional dreams,” continued Harris.

The CSU System issued a statement on Tuesday that said that first-time freshmen who applied and were provisionally admitted to attend a CSU in the fall will be allowed to start classes despite the exam’s cancellation.

“California high school graduates who aspire to enroll at a CSU campus and meet all other requirements for admission to the CSU will not be turned away because of the decision to cancel the exam,” said Loren Blanchard, CSU executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs.

Students are not required to pass the CAHSEEE in order to be admitted into a CSU; however, a high school graduation date, which is noted on official transcripts, is required to verify successful completion of the required coursework for admission.

“We have asked the admissions offices at all 23 CSU campuses to be flexible in the final evaluation of new freshmen who might not have received their graduation date on final transcripts,” said Blanchard.

Additionally, CSU campus outreach staff is currently working with high schools, as well as the impacted students and their families, to ensure that they begin the academic year on schedule.

According to UC’s Office of the President spokeswoman Dianne Klein, the UC is not aware of any admitted students who are affected by the cancellation.

 SB 172 by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge) is another piece of legislation that aims to remove the high school examination as a requirement to graduate. However, SB 172 hopes to eliminate the exam through 2017-18 in order to give the state sufficient time to research alternatives that align with Common Core State Standards.

If approved, SB 172 would allow students, beginning with the Class of 2015, to graduate without passing the exit exam. It is expected to be discussed later this month.

“No student’s dream of a college education should be delayed because of an anomaly,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “That’s why I am working closely with college administrators and the Legislature to remedy the situation and help these students stay on track for college.”

Although the amount of Stanislaus County students affected by this cancellation is not known, Educational Options Assistant Superintendent Scott Kuykendall said that his program had 86 students who weren’t able to take the CAHSEE in July.

These students were only given a Certificate of Completion, which verifies that the student has completed all high school graduation requirements, but that they failed to pass the CAHSEE.

“These students are kind of stuck in limbo in the sense that right now legislation is being pursued that would exempt the exam requirement for the Class of 2015,” said Kuykendall. “The dilemma is what you do in the meantime.”

Kuykendall said that local school districts are “caught between a rock and a hard place,” since they can either follow the lead of San Francisco Unified School District, which defied state law by deciding to award 107 diplomas to SFUSD students without the exit exam, or they can pursue a more conservative approach and wait to see if the legislation passes.

Kuykendall said that he decided to not temporarily defy state law by issuing diplomas in his program and instead opted to wait for the legislative outcome.

“If and when that passes, we will contact students from there,” said Kuykendall.