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CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT REINSTATES STATE GRADUATION EXAM: State Ruling Could Prove Crucial as Other States Develop Exit Exams

“This is a clear victory for public education,” said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell

California’s high school seniors will have to pass the state’s exit exam before they can receive their high school diplomas; the California Supreme Court has reinstated passage of the graduation exam as a requirement for obtaining a diploma. The court’s ruling means that nearly 47,000 seniors, about 10% of California’s high school seniors, are likely to be denied a high school diploma because they have not passed either the math or language arts part of the exam.

“This is a clear victory for public education,” said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “The students who have worked very hard to pass this exam will be given a diploma that signifies their mastery of essential skills in reading and math.”

On May 12, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman suspended the exam requirement and said that the test discriminates against students who have not passed it. He ruled that these students have not had the same opportunity to learn the material because they are more likely to attend overcrowded schools that lack teachers with proper credentials. Of the nearly 47,000 students who have not passed the test, 20,600 have limited English skills and 28,300 are low-income.

But in a divided ruling on May 24, the California Supreme Court reinstated the exam requirement. Although the court declined to consider the arguments against the exam, it ordered an appeals court to make a decision on whether the test should remain a graduation requirement. Marsha Bedwell, lead counsel for the California Department of Education, said that she did not know when the appeals court would consider the case but expected the supreme court’s ruling to remain in place through this year’s graduations. In light of the state supreme court’s ruling, individual school districts must now decide whether students who have not passed both the language arts and math portions of the exam will be allowed to “walk” in graduation ceremonies and perhaps receive a certificate of completion in lieu of a diploma.

According to Los Angeles Times, citing the Center on Education Policy, about half of the nation’s states require seniors to pass an exit exam to graduate. “Nearly all of those states have won legal challenges to their exams,” it reads. “With several other states currently developing exit exams, the case against California is seen as a crucial test.”

Justices Restore Exit Exam” is available at,1,204882.story.

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