Increasing numbers of African American and Latino students are passing parts of the high school exit exam early in high school, an indication that more students are arriving in high school with at least basic skills.
Results released Wednesday show that a record 94.6 percent of the Class of 2011 passed the California High School Exit Exam or CAHSEE – a slight uptick of 0.2 percent from 2010 and 4.2 percentage points ahead of 2006, the first year that the test counted for graduates.
For African Americans, the 90.9 percent pass rate, while 7.5 percentage points behind whites (98.6 percent), represents a notable narrowing of the achievement gap; in 2006, only 83.7 percent passed. Hispanic students made comparable gains: a 6.8 percentage point increase in five years, from 85.5 percent in 2006 to 92.3 percent in 2011. The 92.1 percent of low-income students in the Class of 2011 who passed was 6.4 percentage points above the 85.7 percent in 2006.
Students first take CAHSEE in 10th grade. And it is there that minorities and low-income students have shown the most progress.
As 10th graders, 74.7 percent of the overall Class of ’06 passed the English Language Arts part of the exam. This year, 82.4 percent of 10th graders in the upcoming Class of ’13 passed – a 7.7 percentage point increase in seven years.
By comparison, 61.7 percent of Hispanic students in the Class of ’06 passed the ELA section, while 76.4 percent of 10th graders in the Class of ’13 passed, a 14.7 percentage point increase, nearly double the overall state increase.
For African American students, the gain was nearly as impressive: 62.6 percent of the Class of ’06 passed as sophomores, compared with 72.2 percent of sophomores this year, an increase of 9.6 percentage points. And for low-income students, the gain was 15 percentage points, from 60 to 75 percent passage as sophomores.
There were comparable gains in math in 10th grade for the low-performing minorities, although African Americans in the Class of 2006 started at an alarmingly low passage rate – 54.4 percent – and raised that to 68.4 percent for this year’s sophomores (see charts for math and ELA combined passage rates).
Even that increase, however, shows that too many students are still playing catch-up.
“Based on these results,” the Education Trust-West said in a statement, “it is clear that our state and school district leaders must prioritize the needs of our low-income students and students of color by ensuring that they have the additional supports and instructional time they need to succeed.”
CAHSEE tests pre-algebra skills, roughly seventh grade knowledge of arithmetic. The English Language Arts test is easier than the California Standards Test given to sophomores. So even passage of CAHSEE in 10th grade would not necessarily mean that students are on track for a four-year state university.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s Blueprint for Great Schools, released this month, recommends aligning the test closer to skills needed to go to college or be qualified for a skilled job.
The overall passage rates do not include special education students. They take the exam – 54.6 percent of the Class of ’11 passed compared with only 21.1 percent of the Class of ’06 (an impressive gain) – but they are exempt from passing the exam as a graduation requirement.