No Exit

Years of interventions designed to help students pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) have had little impact. A study released last night by the Public Policy Institute of California found that tutoring didn’t help students at all, while CAHSEE prep classes and continued support after twelfth grade had only modest success.

“The glass is a quarter full,” said UC San Diego economics professor Julian Betts, a co-author of the study. “There’s modest success here and we should take some pride in that.”

The report, titled Passing the California High School Exit Exam: Have recent policies improved student performance?, found that that the assistance programs helped somewhere between 1.5 and 3 percent of students who failed the exam in their sophomore year to eventually pass the test.

“In other words, the interventions unfortunately do not help the vast majority of those failing the CAHSEE in grade 10 to pass the test in a later grade,” wrote the authors.

CAHSEE trends in 10th grade pass rates. (Source:  HumRRO). Click to enlarge
CAHSEE trends in 10th grade pass rates. (Source: HumRRO). Click to enlarge

Starting with the class of 2006, California seniors have had to pass the exit exam in order to earn a high school diploma. The test is divided into two parts: math and English language arts. Students who pass one part and not the other only have to retake the section they failed. According to the PPIC study, about 1 in 16 students fails to pass both sections by the end of twelfth grade.

The researchers studied San Diego Unified School District, which has implemented many of the support programs. Back in 2005, at the urging of former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who carried the bill to create the CAHSEE, state lawmakers approved AB 128, which provides districts with $20 million to offer additional instruction – including private and small group assistance, improved teacher training, and extra teachers.

Two years later, the Legislature approved two additional bills aimed at improving the pass rate. AB 347 requires districts to provide up to two years of additional support services for students who failed to pass by the end of their senior year. AB 1802 increased the number of counselors in middle and high schools, and required those new counselors to identify students who failed or were at risk of failing the exit exam.

Grade 2 differences are better predictors of 10th grade pass rates than 12th grade. (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
Grade 2 differences are better predictors of 10th grade pass rates than 12th grade. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

PPIC researchers studied the impact of the interventions in these http://dfwhindutemple.org/antibiotics-for-sale/ three bills.

Too little, too late

One of the main barriers to success, said Betts, is that the interventions are starting too late.  Instead of waiting for high school, students ought to be targeted for assistance in middle school, or even earlier.  In a 2008 report by Betts, he said there are already ways of predicting who’s likely to fail the exam.

“Academic grade point average (GPA) is the strongest predictor of eventual outcomes on the CAHSEE,” wrote Betts and his co-author.  “However, some nonacademic characteristics such as absences and classroom behavior…are also signficiantly related to CAHSEE.”

Example of "early warning" system to determine students at risk of failing CAHSEE. (Source:  PPIC). Click to enlarge.
Example of "early warning" system to determine students at risk of failing CAHSEE. (Source: PPIC). Click to enlarge.

Those indicators can be seen as early as elementary school, and are more prevalent among English learners, no matter what grade they’re in.  The 2008 study found that just by being an English learner in grade 9 meant a student was 15 percent less likely to pass CAHSEE.  The researchers recommended development of an “early warning” system to help teachers identify and begin working with at-risk students before they fail the exit exam.  Along with yesterday’s study, Betts and his co-authors released that system, known as the CAHSEE Early Warning Model, which is available for any district in the state to download and use.

“This dual policy of early warning and early intervention could provide a cost-effective way to save students from both the needless anxiety of failing the exit exam,” concluded Betts and his co-authors, “and worse, giving up one or two years of their lives after grade 12 to master basic competencies in order to receive a high school diploma.”

For more information:

Independent Evaluation of the California High School Exit Examination:  2011 Evaluation Report to the California Dept. of Education. HumRRO, November 2011

Predicting Success on the California High School Exit Exam, Public Policy Institute of California, June 2008 Aldactone

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

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