Lake Tahoe Unified School District no longer gives senior exit exams
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Thanks to a new law, high school seniors at Lake Tahoe Unified School District no longer face an exit exam requirement.
Gov. Jerry Brown, on Oct. 7, signed a bill that suspends the decade-old requirement while the state prepares to take a hard look at new standards. In the meantime, the new law requires local school districts in California to issue high school diplomas to students who failed to pass the exams but passed other graduation requirements.
For South Tahoe High School, that means at least one student will receive a high school diploma, according to district superintendent Dr. James Tarwater. The exit exam requirements were established in 2004 and made a mandatory graduation requirement two years later.
Tarwater said the decision to suspend the exit exams makes sense in the long run.
“What the state is really saying is that the exit exam doesn’t work with the new Common Core standards,” Tarwater said. “Students are being tested one way and assessed another.”
Exit exams test proficiency in eighth-grade math and 10th-grade English skills. By 2014, approximately 95 percent of seniors passed the test.
The state will require all school districts to comb through its records since 2003 to make sure no affected alumni are missed. According to the California Department of Education, approximately 32,000 students statewide didn’t pass the exam between 2006 and 2014, though some students retested later.
California slowly introduced Common Core standards over the last few years, replacing older standards that essentially required students to fill in the blanks on annual state standard exams.
The new Common Core curriculum, which Lake Tahoe Unified School District utilizes, requires students to incorporate technology and critical thinking into language arts and mathematics.
The California Department of Education switched to its new system, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, for ranking student achievement this year. That system includes more rigorous standards.
The new student achievement ranking evaluates third through eighth grades and high school juniors on English and math skills.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District ranked average overall this year.
Tarwater said the new Common Core standards are a better approach for education, but added that some things remain flawed.
“The problem with the state is with the testing,” Tarwater said. “The state implemented the testing before we had time to fully implement the curriculum.”
South Tahoe principal Chad Houck said he wasn’t certain that removing a standard baseline will hurt or help students at the moment. But he does see value in exit exams as a requirement for diploma.
“I think that having a baseline of what high school graduates should know, and the level at which they can perform, will only benefit future career and college pursuits,” Houck said.
Houck said that as a veteran educator, he’s seen the exit exams stand out from other tests.
“Over the last 15 years, I saw that there was both stress and incredible victory with students who were able to pass the test,” Houck said. “For some, it was a milestone.”
He added that those baseline exams help establish a standard that every school should meet. Once the inconsistencies between old and new testing standards are worked out, Houck said it will be an invaluable tool.
“I think though that having some way to work toward pairing between high school standards and diplomas in the state is important,” Houck said. “We should have a standard that a diploma means this or meets this standard.”
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