No Exit

Extra support no help for high school exit exam
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Years of interventions designed to help students pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) have had little impact. A study released last night by the Public Policy Institute of California found that tutoring didn’t help students at all, while CAHSEE prep classes and continued support after twelfth grade had only modest success.

“The glass is a quarter full,” said UC San Diego economics professor Julian Betts, a co-author of the study. “There’s modest success here and we should take some pride in that.”

The report, titled Passing the California High School Exit Exam: Have recent policies improved student performance?, found that that the assistance programs helped somewhere between 1.5 and 3 percent of students who failed the exam in their sophomore year to eventually pass the test.

“In other words, the interventions unfortunately do not help the vast majority of those failing the CAHSEE in grade 10 to pass the test in a later grade,” wrote the authors.

CAHSEE trends in 10th grade pass rates. (Source:  HumRRO). Click to enlarge

CAHSEE trends in 10th grade pass rates. (Source: HumRRO). Click to enlarge

Starting with the class of 2006, California seniors have had to pass the exit exam in order to earn a high school diploma. The test is divided into two parts: math and English language arts. Students who pass one part and not the other only have to retake the section they failed. According to the PPIC study, about 1 in 16 students fails to pass both sections by the end of twelfth grade.

The researchers studied San Diego Unified School District, which has implemented many of the support programs. Back in 2005, at the urging of former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who carried the bill to create the CAHSEE, state lawmakers approved AB 128, which provides districts with $20 million to offer additional instruction – including private and small group assistance, improved teacher training, and extra teachers.

Two years later, the Legislature approved two additional bills aimed at improving the pass rate. AB 347 requires districts to provide up to two years of additional support services for students who failed to pass by the end of their senior year. AB 1802 increased the number of counselors in middle and high schools, and required those new counselors to identify students who failed or were at risk of failing the exit exam.

Grade 2 differences are better predictors of 10th grade pass rates than 12th grade. (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.

Grade 2 differences are better predictors of 10th grade pass rates than 12th grade. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

PPIC researchers studied the impact of the interventions in these http://dfwhindutemple.org/antibiotics-for-sale/ three bills.

Too little, too late

One of the main barriers to success, said Betts, is that the interventions are starting too late.  Instead of waiting for high school, students ought to be targeted for assistance in middle school, or even earlier.  In a 2008 report by Betts, he said there are already ways of predicting who’s likely to fail the exam.

“Academic grade point average (GPA) is the strongest predictor of eventual outcomes on the CAHSEE,” wrote Betts and his co-author.  “However, some nonacademic characteristics such as absences and classroom behavior…are also signficiantly related to CAHSEE.”

Example of "early warning" system to determine students at risk of failing CAHSEE. (Source:  PPIC). Click to enlarge.

Example of "early warning" system to determine students at risk of failing CAHSEE. (Source: PPIC). Click to enlarge.

Those indicators can be seen as early as elementary school, and are more prevalent among English learners, no matter what grade they’re in.  The 2008 study found that just by being an English learner in grade 9 meant a student was 15 percent less likely to pass CAHSEE.  The researchers recommended development of an “early warning” system to help teachers identify and begin working with at-risk students before they fail the exit exam.  Along with yesterday’s study, Betts and his co-authors released that system, known as the CAHSEE Early Warning Model, which is available for any district in the state to download and use.

“This dual policy of early warning and early intervention could provide a cost-effective way to save students from both the needless anxiety of failing the exit exam,” concluded Betts and his co-authors, “and worse, giving up one or two years of their lives after grade 12 to master basic competencies in order to receive a high school diploma.”

For more information:

Independent Evaluation of the California High School Exit Examination:  2011 Evaluation Report to the California Dept. of Education. HumRRO, November 2011

Predicting Success on the California High School Exit Exam, Public Policy Institute of California, June 2008 Aldactone

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15 Comments

  1. I don’t know if this is a controversial view or not: The CAHSEE is such a low bar that honestly, I think any kid who can’t pass it has a learning disability that needs diagnosis and remedial support, except for  newcomer students who don’t yet have the English-language skills.

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  2. It’s hard for any extra in-school intervention to help a student with high absenteeism. There are assorted reasons why a student might be absent a lot, but fundamentally it can be overcome only if the student is self-directed and spending that absent time studying on his own.

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  3. Also, to expand on my own comment, we should separate out high absentee students into groups making satisfactory progress and those falling behind. It’s not a given that every absent student is in academic crisis.

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  4. CarolineSF: it might be a controversial point of view, but I whole heartily agree that the CAHSEE is a bar set much too low to be a meaningful measure of an individuals’ academic attainment during a thirteen year long career in the school system.

    Our agency has been using an “off the shelf” commercial assessment system with displaced workers and jobseekers, as well as a substantial number of high school students interested in participating in one of our industry-specific workforce development programs for several years. One local school district invested several thousand dollars to assess their entire senior class for three years in a row, and the same group of students that successfully completed the commercial assessment were the same group of students that passed the CAHSEE!

    I’m currently working to design and implement a GED program to serve in excess of 70,000 people in our community that lack a diploma or GED, and have discovered that the vast majority of the academic skills needed to pass the CAHSEE and the GED are being taught in the elementary and middle school grades, not high school.  Perhaps “el” is on target with his suggestion of  focusing and concentrating intervention efforts to those students with chronic rates of absenteeism.

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  5. Caroline, that’s generally accurate.  The exit exam is written at a 10th grade level for English language arts and an 8th grade level for math.  Most of the students who fail are newcomers with limited English.  Some are also students at risk for dropping out because because they’re not engaged in school for one reason or another.  Reaching out early to the EL students and other at-risk students makes sense, but that doesn’t help immigrant kids who arrive in California as high school students.

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  6. So in other words, the CAHSEE isn’t realistically testing whether students have reached an achievable level of academic skills.
     
    Students who have any academic capacity at all are passing it easily as sophomores. Students with serious challenges (language, certain disabilities, severe life challenges) don’t pass it, and another year or two of school isn’t making a difference when the challenges are that serious.
     
    Teachers already know which students have those serious challenges, so what’s the point of wasting time and money administering the CAHSEE?

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  7. Caroline’s last question is a good one. A viable interpretation of the story is that the last decade wasted enormous amounts of time, energy, and money on an examination (the CAHSEE) the passing of which leads to nothing of value to the student. One of the strongest memories of my educational career was running into a former student whom I had taught in a CAHSEE-prep class when he was a 12th-grader who had already failed it multiple times (that was a requirement to get into this special class I taught). He ran up to me and said, “Mr. Smith, I passed the CAHSEE! (this was in the late spring, almost a year after he had finished high school, and therefore we hadn’t seen each other in a long time). I said, “Great, (student’s name), what are you doing now?” He said, “Nothing.” He had arrived on an education reform group’s bus chartered in order to place lots of cast members in matching, sloganized T-shirts into the backgrounds of news shots of the group’s leaders making speeches and demands.
    Is this the kind of future these reform groups’ programs lead to? Is this the best we can do for the next generation?

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  8. Interestingly, for all we talk about the CAHSEE’s low standard, it’s substantially higher than was expected of high school students when I was one in the 1980′s, where probably half the kids who graduated were never even enrolled in an algebra class.
     
    It would be interesting to see how many 40+ year old adults could pass it on the first try. :-) Especially those guiding “education reform.” :-)

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  9. When CAHSEE was first proposed, many opponents said it might drive the drop-out rate higher. Did this study address that? Or does another study give us any insight on whether that happened?
     

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  10. I raise El’s question all the time about the regular standardized tests — could the “reformers” and editorial writers cope with the tests they so avidly require of our kids (and by which they’re eager to judge teachers)? (Especially the editorial writers, since journalists are a famously math-phobic subgroup.)
     
    But my kids tell me that the CAHSEE is very, very low-level; both of them passed it easily with perfect scores as sophomores.

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  11. A good comparison benchmark for past years, if one was wanted, would be the California High School Proficiency exam, which was an alternative to a normal diploma. Someone must have old copies of that in a file drawer somewhere. No algebra on it in the 1980′s.
     

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  12. Sierra, I’ll look for research on that and post it here if I can find it.

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  13. CAHSEE math is a four-option multiple-choice test. The passing score is 55%. It includes some 8th-grade (algebra) questions, but a student who more or less knows elementary math, guesses intelligently on 6th- and 7th-grade questions and guesses blindly on the algebra should be able to hit 55%. In fact, intelligent guessing on the elementary questions probably would be enough. The fact that some students can’t pass on the first, second, third or fourth try is very troubling.
    Most English Learners in high school aren’t new arrivals. They’ve been in U.S. schools for years — some were born here — without scoring well on English Language Arts tests. Many speak English or Spanglish with friends, but their reading and writing skills are poor. And ELs have a harder time passing the math test than the English.
    Without CAHSEE, students with very, very weak reading and math skills would be getting high school diplomas — with no hope of succeeding in community colleges (even in remedial ed) or job training. But, if late intervention doesn’t help, we need to try earlier intervention.
     

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