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School leaders plan to uphold exit exam

May 17, 2006|By Michael Miller

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District plans to keep honoring the California High School Exit Exam as a graduation requirement, even after a court decision froze the test last week.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman issued a preliminary injunction against making the exit exam a graduation requirement, ruling in favor of a San Francisco attorney who represented a group of Bay Area students. In his ruling, Freedman declared that the test discriminated against poor and minority students whose schools had not adequately prepared them for the material.

State Supt. Jack O'Connell, who created the exit exam in 1999, expressed dismay over the ruling and said the state planned to appeal it. For the moment, though, Newport-Mesa administrators have kept the exit exam alive, saying they will continue to push all students toward passing grades.

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"We really are waiting to hear what actions O'Connell's office has taken, but for the next few days, at least, we're expecting to change nothing," said Supt. Robert Barbot. "It's business moving forward until we hear otherwise, as if the test was still in place, because we believe there are other steps that need to happen, and we're not going to be seesawing back and forth."

Peggy Anatol, the district's assessment director, said that if the state's appeal did not pan out, a small number of students might be barred from graduating. She noted that of the 134 Newport-Mesa seniors who had not passed the exam, many lacked other graduation requirements.

"It might be a misnomer that all these kids are standing right by the door of graduation without the ? [exit exam], and that's it," she said.

Newport-Mesa offered the exit exam again in March and is awaiting those results later this month. After the marks from the November test came back, the district had 155 students who still hadn't passed, but Anatol said the number had decreased since. Some special-education students were dropped from the list after a January state Senate bill granted reprieves, while others moved out of the district.

Newport Harbor High School Principal Michael Vossen said that of the 29 seniors at his school waiting to pass the exit exam, 12 were in special education. Most of the rest were either English-learners or had not passed enough classes to graduate. He added that he strongly supported keeping the exit exam in place.

"I think we owe post-secondary institutions and industry some assurance that our graduates are coming out of there with benchmark results," he said.

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