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May 16, 2006 > Judge suspends California's high school exit exam

Judge suspends California's high school exit exam

by JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP), May 13 _ Despite failing California's high school exit exam, senior Mayra Ibanez may get a chance to start training next year to become a medical assistant after a judge suspended the test.

Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman's ruling Friday that the exam is discriminatory could allow Ibanez and thousands of other students who failed it to get their diplomas anyway.

Freedman also denied the state's request for a stay pending an appeal.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the state would immediately appeal the decision, which he said creates "chaos" for more than 1,100 high schools that are completing graduation preparations.

"How are these students and these schools to plan for their futures?" he asked.

Ibanez, 18, one of 10 students who, along with their parents, sued over the exam, said she cried when she heard about the ruling.

"It is hard to be poor. It is hard to grow up in a place where there is a lot of crime," said Ibanez, a Mexican immigrant who attends school in the San Francisco Bay area city of Richmond. "No one will be hurt if we get our diploma."

The Alameda County judge agreed with the plaintiffs that the exam discriminates against poor students and those who are learning English.

"There is evidence in the record that shows that students in economically challenged communities have not had an equal opportunity to learn the materials tested," Freedman wrote.

This year's graduating class is the first required to pass the exam to get a diploma. Students have multiple opportunities to take the exam, starting when they are sophomores.

The ruling could affect 47,000 seniors _ about 11 percent of the class of 2006 _ who have yet to pass the exam's English and math sections. State officials don't know how many of those students have met the other graduation requirements.

"We have been fighting for months to get to this moment," said the plaintiffs' lead attorney, Arturo Gonzalez.

Four of the plaintiffs have asked to be dropped from the suit, one after passing the exam.

Retired teacher PJ Macado-Silvestro, who has been working with students in Fresno who failed the exam, has mixed feelings about the decision.

She said she was "overjoyed" for students she described as "English learners," but also felt for the teachers and students who invested time and effort in exam preparations. She said she hopes the decision doesn't send the message that "we're not holding the students to high expectations."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he agreed with O'Connell's decision to appeal the ruling.

In the revised budget for next year released Friday, Schwarzenegger increased the amount of money available to schools to help students pass the exam to $70 million, up from a proposed $40 million earlier this year.

Last year, the Legislature allocated $20 million in remedial aid. Freedman said in his decision that the funds were insufficient and arbitrarily distributed, noting that the aid failed to reach nearly half of the seniors who had not passed the exit exam by the start of this academic year.

Friday's ruling came in one of three lawsuits filed against the exam.

Earlier this year, special education students won a one-year reprieve on the requirement. Next week Freedman is scheduled to hear arguments in a third suit, which claims state officials failed to consider alternatives to the test, as the law required.


Associated Press Writers Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Samantha Young in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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