The graduating seniors of 2006 were the first class in the state required to take and pass the California High School Exit Exam.
Half a decade later the CAHSEE remains the final hurdle towards graduation for dozens of seniors in the Turlock Unified School District, and in recent years district officials have made passing the exam a priority for its seniors.
One of the key tools in ensuring seniors earn an actual diploma versus a “certificate of completion” is a carefully executed and extensive, six-week summer school program held at Turlock High School.
All students entering their sophomore year of high school are given the CAHSEE. The CAHSEE consist of a math and an English portion. While most sophomores pass the CHASEE, students who do not pass one or both parts of the examination their sophomore year have up to two opportunities in their junior year and between three and five chances in their senior year to retake the part(s) of the exam they did not pass.
In many cases students who are considered English learners, or recently moved to the United States struggle to pass all or part of the exam. Should a student not pass all or part of the exam by the time graduation occurs they are awarded a “certificate of completion” but not a diploma. In these rare, but not uncommon occurrences, seniors can take CHASEE prep classes the summer following their senior year.
The Turlock High Summer School program uses CAHSEE prep classes, along with an independent study program to help credit deficient seniors reach their goal of graduation and a diploma.
“The goal of this is the students understand it is important to accomplish the goal or earning that diploma. The district wants them to graduate and we are giving them another opportunity with this summer school. We don’t just say ‘we tried but it’s over now,’ and let them go,” said THS Summer School Principal Gabe Ontiveros, Jr.
Senior Vanessa Moreno, 18, is working over the summer to earn her diploma.
“With no diploma, there is no future. This school helps me work on my writing,” said Moreno, who plans to attend Kaplan College and become a medical assistant.
Ontiveros said the majority of CAHSEE prep students are enrolled in the English/ language arts class because math skills are often transferred in from other countries.
“We learn essay writing, vocabulary and grammar,” said Emita Babazadh, an 18-year-old senior.
Over the summer Babazadh is taking the English and math CAHSEE classes, along with independent study in order to earn 10 credits which she missed during the regular high school year. She plans to enroll at Modesto Junior College and transfer to a four-year university.
“It is important to go to college for your future,” she said.
For Babazadh the commitment is hard work, but something she is willing to do to reach her goal of a high school diploma. In summer school students take six-week, two hour class everyday in whichever subject they need help in.
“The kids hit it hard in the summer because they want to get their diploma. They are investing in themselves and in their future here. Coming here is completely voluntary and the students and their parents are making a serious commitment,” said Ontiveros.
While in CAHSEE class students are given blueprint questions — which are past CAHSEE questions or questions that are similar to what is on the actual exam. Test taking skills and strategies are included in the curriculum.
“Our success rate is high, a good percentage pass after this,” said Ontiveros. “Student focus is better because we have smaller class sizes and teachers can reach more students.”
According to TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Lacrisha Ferriera, the ultimate goal for TUSD is to improve effective initial instruction so that fewer CAHSEE prep and intervention programs are needed.
“We will expect all kids, with the exception of English learners and special education students, to pass the CAHSEE when they are sophomores,” she said.
In addition to CAHSEE prep classes, Turlock High Summer School’s focus is to bring English learner students in grades 7-12 and credit recovery high school students up to speed with their peers.
Students going into 7th grade who are struggling with math or English testing are identified by their respective junior high and encouraged to enroll in the summer program.
“These kids coming into 7th grade come here voluntarily and they really want to learn,” said Ontiveros.
The Independent Study program provides seniors looking to graduate or other students who have fallen behind a chance to buckle down and catch up. The summer school site is staffed by teachers who help IS students with questions they may have.
“Our IS teachers are taking the time to provide extra help and they really care. They are doing an amazing job,” said Ontiveros.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail jmccorkell@turlockjournal, or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.