California Tests have Negative Effects on Students of Color

April 23, 2009

In 2006, California joined nearly half of the states in the U.S. in requiring a mandatory exit exam for public school students. Now, a new study conducted by the Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice at Stanford University (IREPP) finds that the California High School Exit Exam (CHSEE) has disproportionately lowered graduation rates for low-achieving students of color and young girls.

In it's first year, 97% of white seniors and 95% of Asian American seniors passed the exam by May, compared to a little over 85% of Latinos and 83% of African Americans. Graduation rates of white students in the bottom quartile have declined by only 1 percentage point after the exam requirement, compared to 15 to 19 percentage points among students of color (PDF). On average, the graduation rates for females who scored in the lowest quartile were 19 percentage points lower than those of females who were not required to complete the exit exam. The rates for males were 12 percentage points lower.

Despite these negative results, a survey conducted shortly after a 2006 lawsuit against the exam showed support for the CHSEE among minority parents. Even parents of students who did not graduate claimed that the exam puts pressure on public schools to academically prepare young people for college. Some parents also expressed that creating high stakes for graduating, such as the CHSEE, were helpful for students.

These are valid concerns for families but the new study finds no evidence to suggest that the exam has assisted in improving student achievement. Furthermore, the disproportionate negative effects of the exam on minority students and females risk confirming stereotypes about their groups' academic skills. Because the exam results and not the overall grades, dictate whether or not a student graduates, the diploma no longer objectively signals academic achievement.

Standardized testing will not assist in providing fair and adequate education for students. In a system fraught with inequity, tests that appear to be objectively fair are not valuable, and continue to disproportionately affect marginalized individuals. Furthermore, the quality of a school does not entirely account for the results of the exam. This means that adjustments to the exam and to the education system need to be considered in order to create fairer policies for young people of color and women that will provide them with academic achievement and better tools to succeed in college.

Nina Jacinto is a freelance blogger living in the Bay Area whose writing focuses on issues of race, gender, and media representation. She's a graduate of Pomona College and loves South Asian diaspora narratives, bargain shopping, and the Internet.





Time for an Exit Exam revolt! The biggest debacle about the CAHSEE is that while the State was spending millions to implement the test, including printing materials and mandating that teachers take time out of their curriculum schedule to "teach the test". -- <br />
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Seriously -- dedicated 5-class schedule teachers were being asked to teach an 80-minute Zero Period class (usually at 7 a.m.) in addition to their full schedules! What you end up with is tired teachers and stressed out kids -- not a positive learning environment at all!<br />
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Meanwhile, the State cut art and music programs as well as college counselors. The time that students waste trying to pass the CAHSEE (which itself is a repeat of other standardized tests students take) should instead be spend on college counseling or SAT preparation. <br />
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Additionally, CASHEE and other high school Exit Exams are seriously biased against students with emotional and learning disabilities. TENN has already revoked their high school exit exam.