Beginning with the Class of 2006, students in California public schools were required to pass the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) to demonstrate competency in grade-level skills in reading, writing, and mathematics to earn a high school diploma. The content of the CAHSEE was based on content standards in English-language arts and mathematics that were adopted by the State Board of Education (SBE) in 2003. In 2010, the SBE adopted the Common Core State Standards in English–language arts and mathematics.
Due to the change in academic standards, Senate Bill 172 (Liu) was signed by the Governor to suspend the administration of the CAHSEE and the requirement that students pass the CAHSEE to receive a high school diploma for the 2015–16, 2016–17, and 2017–18 school years. The law required that schools grant a diploma to any pupil who completed grade twelve in the 2003–04 school year or a subsequent school year and met all applicable graduation requirements other than the passage of the high school exit examination. The law further required the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene an advisory panel to provide recommendations to the Superintendent on the continuation of the high school exit examination and on alternative pathways to satisfy the high school graduation requirements pursuant to Education Code sections 51224.5 and 51225.3. The law became effective on January 1, 2016.
Recommendation on the High School Exit Examination and Pathways to Graduation (DOC; 5MB)
Suspension of the CAHSEE Notification Letter
Frequently Asked Questions About the Suspension of the CAHSEE
Questions and answers about the suspension of the CAHSEE.
California Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) Frequently Asked Questions (Related to CAHSEE suspension)
Suspension of the California High School Exit Examination Diploma Requirement for Eligible Seniors in the Class of 2015
Letter from Superintendent Torlakson to provide information on the signing of Senate Bill 725.
Overview of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).
Purpose and Content
The primary purpose of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) was to significantly improve student achievement in public high schools and to ensure that students who graduated from public high schools demonstrated grade level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics. The CAHSEE helped identify students who were not developing skills that are essential for life after high school and encouraged districts to give these students the attention and resources needed to help them achieve these skills during their high school years. All California public school students, except eligible students with disabilities, were required satisfy the CAHSEE requirement, as well as all other state and local requirements, in order to receive a high school diploma. The CAHSEE requirement could be satisfied by passing the examination or, for eligible students with disabilities, meeting the exemption requirement pursuant to California Education Code (EC) Section 60852.3, or receiving a local waiver pursuant to EC Section 60851(c).
The CAHSEE had two parts: English–language arts (ELA) and mathematics. The ELA part addressed state content standards through grade ten. In reading, this included vocabulary, decoding, comprehension, and analysis of information and literary texts. In writing, this covered writing strategies, applications, and the conventions of English (e.g., grammar, spelling, and punctuation). The mathematics part of the CAHSEE addressed state standards in grades six and seven and Algebra I. The exam included statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement and geometry, mathematical reasoning, and algebra. Students were also asked to demonstrate a strong foundation in computation and arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions, and percents.
After determining that local proficiency standards, established pursuant to EC Section 51215 (repealed January 1, 2000), were generally set below a high school level and were not consistent with the state's content standards, the Legislature indicated its intent to set higher standards for high school graduation. In proposing the CAHSEE, the Legislature's primary goal was to "...significantly improve pupil achievement in high school and to ensure that pupils who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics..." (Senate Bill 2, Section 1[b]). EC Section 60850 (Chapter 1, statutes of 1999-2000, S.B.2, O'Connell) authorized the CAHSEE to be developed in accordance with State Board of Education (SBE)-adopted content standards in ELA and mathematics. The CAHSEE was developed based on recommendations of the High School Exit Examination Standards Panel, whose members were appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and approved by the SBE.
State law required that the CAHSEE be administered only on the dates designated by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Students were required retake the examination until the ELA and mathematics parts were passed; however, students could retake only those parts not previously passed. All students were required to take the CAHSEE for the first time in grade ten. Students who did not pass one or both parts of the CAHSEE in grade ten could take the parts not passed up to two times per school year in grade eleven and up to five times per school year in grade twelve. Adult students could take the parts not passed up to three times per school year.
The CAHSEE was offered for the first time in spring 2001 (March and May) to volunteer ninth graders (class of 2004). In October 2001, Assembly Bill 1609 (Calderon) removed the option for ninth graders to take the CAHSEE beginning with the 2002 administration. The CAHSEE was next administered in spring 2002 to all tenth graders who had not passed it during the spring 2001 administration. The class of 2005 took the CAHSEE for the first time in spring 2003. In July 2003, the SBE took action to move the passage of the CAHSEE as a diploma requirement to the Class of 2006. The Class of 2006 took the CAHSEE for the first time as tenth graders in February 2004.
In addition to the use of the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement, the spring CAHSEE administration was used in calculating the Academic Performance Index for state accountability purposes and Adequate Yearly Progress to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
In 2010, the SBE adopted the Common Core State Standards to be used as the basis for curriculum, instruction, and assessment for California schools. Due to the change in academic standards, Senate Bill 172 (Liu) was signed by the Governor to suspend the administration of the CAHSEE and the requirement that students pass the CAHSEE to receive a high school diploma for the 2015–16, 2016–17, and 2017–18 school years. The law required that schools grant a diploma to any pupil who completed grade twelve in the 2003–04 school year or a subsequent school year and met all applicable graduation requirements other than the passage of the high school exit examination. The law further required the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene an advisory panel to provide recommendations to the Superintendent on the continuation of the high school exit examination and on alternative pathways to satisfy the high school graduation requirements pursuant to Education Code sections 51224.5 and 51225.3. The law became effective on January 1, 2016.
EC Section 60855 required the California Department of Education (CDE) to contract for an independent evaluation of the CAHSEE beginning in January 2000. Each evaluation report was required to include the following: (1) an analysis of student performance, broken down by grade level, gender, race or ethnicity, and portion of the exam, including any trends that became apparent over time, (2) an analysis of the exam's effects, if any, on college attendance, pupil retention, graduation, and dropout rates, including an analysis of these effects on the subgroups described in (1) above, and (3) an analysis of whether the exam was likely to have, or had, differential effects, whether beneficial or detrimental, on the subgroups described in (1) above. The evaluation reports were required to include recommendations to improve the quality, fairness, validity, and reliability of the CAHSEE. The first report of the independent evaluation was completed and presented to the CDE, SBE, Legislature, Governor, and other control agencies on July 1, 2000. Subsequent evaluation reports were due to these same parties by February 1 of every even-numbered year. These reports are posted on the Independent Evaluation Web page.
Historical Program Resources
Frequently asked questions, regulations, test blueprints, released test questions, study guides, and testing accommodations for the CAHSEE.
What content is covered in the CAHSEE?
The test is divided into two sections: math and English/language arts. The math portion covers academic content standards for grades 6 and 7 and algebra I, including statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement, algebra and functions, math reasoning, and geometry. The English/language arts portion includes content standards through grade 10, including vocabulary, reading, writing strategies and conventions. In addition to answering multiple-choice questions, students write an essay on a specific topic. It is a pass/fail test that is not timed.
Who takes the test?
Students take the CAHSEE for the first time in the 10th grade. Students must pass both parts of the exam. Once they pass one portion, they have met that requirement; students only need to retake the portion that they did not pass. Students have five additional opportunities to retake the test.
When did the test become a graduation requirement?
The class of 2006 was the first graduating class that had to pass the CAHSEE in order to receive a high school diploma. These students had their first opportunity to take the CAHSEE in the spring of 2004. Nearly 91% of the class of 2006 passed both portions of the CAHSEE.
If it is called an “exit exam,” why do students take it in the 10th grade?
The goal of the test is to make sure that students have the basic skills they will need to do well in the workplace. Starting the test in 10th grade provides enough time to help those students who aren’t able to pass so they can get the help they need before it is too late.
What happens when students don’t pass the test?
Allowing students to take the test in the 10th grade provides many opportunities to pass. Schools are required to give extra help to students who fail the exam by offering tutoring, special courses, summer school or other assistance. Students may take the test up to six times until they pass.
If students repeatedly fail the test, there are still other options available. They can take the General Education Development Test (GED), which is a high school equivalency exam for adults, or they can attend adult school classes to earn a diploma. Students who are at least 16 years old (or who have completed or are about to complete 10th grade) can take the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), which is similar in format to the CAHSEE. Students who pass the CHSPE can receive a certificate equivalent to a diploma, and passing the test allows them, with parental permission, to leave high school early. Students who are 18 or older, regardless of whether or not they have a high school diploma, can attend a community college in California.
When is the CAHSEE administered?
The California Department of Education provides multiple opportunities for test administration. School districts have some flexibility in setting test administration dates, offering testing dates in the fall, winter, and spring/early summer. You can see the testing schedule on the California Department of Education’s Web site.
Why has California said algebra is important for all students?
Algebra is an important skill for helping students to learn math reasoning — an important skill needed when students enter the workforce, whatever profession they may choose. Algebra used to be an important subject only for students on their way to college, but in today’s economy, all workers need higher levels of mathematical and technological skills. One example is that many trades such as electricians and auto mechanics now require algebra as an entrance requirement for vocational programs.
How will CAHSEE improve school accountability?
Reports of how many students pass the test will be an important focal point for school improvement. All schools in California are ranked according to an Academic Performance Index (API), which shows if schools are making real progress each year. A school’s CAHSEE results will be included among the factors that produce a school’s API. Schools that don’t meet their API growth targets are subject to state sanctions. The CAHSEE results are also used to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as part of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements.
What allowances are made for students with special learning needs?
Special versions of the test are available to help students who have special learning challenges. For example, the test can be administered in braille, audio CD, and large-print format, and when necessary schools will provide a scribe. Students with physical disabilities will be entitled to the same accommodations they have during classroom instruction. State law allows local district school boards to make determinations about these special circumstances.
What allowances are made for students whose first language is not English?
Students must pass the exam in English in order to graduate. However, test variations for English learners have been added to the CAHSEE. During their first 24 months in a California school, English learners receive six months of instruction in reading, writing, and comprehension in English. During this time, these students are still required to take the CAHSEE.
Can I see the test?
Sample questions for the CAHSEE are available online. Look for “released test questions” on the California Department of Education’s Web site.
Do other states require these tests?
High school exit tests are currently required or are being developed in 26 states.
Where can I find the law that created CAHSEE?
The requirements for the exam can be found in Section 60850 of the California Education Code. The law was passed in 1999 by the California State Legislature. Senate Bill 2 (O’Connell) authorized the California High School Exit Exam to ensure that those graduating from high school possess the skills necessary to function as responsible adults.
Thanks to the California Business for Education Excellence Foundation for providing information for this article.
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