By: Josh Briggs
It’s the “most important test” you will take in high school—the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). Every spring, thousands of sophomores across the state are required to take the CAHSEE, which is comprised of two sections: English-Language Arts and Mathematics. To some, the test is a breeze and somewhat of a joke, but to others it jeopardizes the likeliness of walking across the stage come June of their senior year.
According to the California Department of Education’s records, the school had a pass rate of 85 percent in English and 89 percent in math during the 2010-2011 school year. Although these scores are solid “B” grades, the CAHSEE has another category above just passing – proficient.
In order to pass the CAHSEE, students must score 350 on both the English and Math portions of the test. But to reach the level of proficient, students must score 380 on both sections.
Of the 85 percent passed in English, only 63 percent of the students reached proficiency. Math scores seem to be very similar, with only 65 percent proficiency. Why is it that so many people can pass without being proficient? And why is there still a 15 percent failure rate on a test perceived to be so simple?
I’d like to divide the group of failing students into two categories. One group of students consists of those who choose not to participate in the educational system. There is a small minority of students who just do not care about school and throw the test away, completing it without any real thought. This group will likely pass the test the next time it takes the CAHSEE, realizing that it’s required in order to graduate.
The second group of students are those that try, but do not exactly have the capability to pass. This group would include English Language Learners and students in Special Education. How can the state expect those who have been speaking English for less than a year to pass a comprehensive English exam?
Last year alone, only 61 percent of all English Language Learner students passed the English section of the exam and of those, only 25 percent were proficient. Their math scores were better with a 76 percent pass rate and 43 percent proficiency.
Special Education students are an entirely different situation. For starters, any accommodation they need (large print, extra time, etc.) is met. The ending result last year was an unfortunate 58 percent pass rate and 16 percent proficiency rate in English and a 44 percent pass rate and 20 percent proficiency in math.
Although it seems that certain ethnic and economic factors have an effect on the success of a student, the majority of the problem does not seem to be the students. I am in no way trying to make the excuse that students from particular backgrounds are at a disadvantage, but the content of the test itself is unfair to the students that take it. All students are on a different learning curve. It is not reasonable to have universal standards for all students across the state.
There are a large majority of factors that could also play into tests like this. A student could be a bad test taker, experiencing family problems, too tired to stay awake through the whole exam, or simply having a hard time focusing on the task at hand.
English teacher Deborah Fox says that “the CAHSEE is a test of cumulative knowledge,” so there is “nothing to worry about.” But, if you begin to lose focus, Fox advises you to “remember your reading strategies.”
When the test rolls around on March 13 and 14, there are a lot of easy ways that students can ensure that they do the best on this important test. Avoid those social networking sites that keep you up for hours on end, get plenty of sleep both nights so you are not struggling to get through all the problems, and be sure to eat a decent breakfast because no one has good mental functions on an empty stomach.
But the question still remains—how do we fix the problem of students who continue to fail? One solution could be to completely redraft the test. It should be administered more like the standardized tests by having certain difficulty levels for different students.
Another possibility would be simply to allow extensions to English Language Learners so they have at least a year of instruction before being forced to take the exam.
It just seems to be a fact of life that not everyone passes all the time. Not all hope should be lost though. In the last ten years, both English and math scores for the school have increased significantly.
With the help of the state, teachers and students can work towards reaching goals of higher pass and proficiency rates.
- Eat a good breakfast
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Pace yourself; skip questions that are too hard and come back
- Don’t cheat off of others
- Don’t take the test lightly: it may be easy, but it is still important
- Don’t stress out over the test