Local special education students passed the California High
School Exit Exam at a higher rate than the state average, but
educators are still concerned that some students will not receive a
Local special education students passed the California High School Exit Exam at a higher rate than the state average, but educators are still concerned that some students will not receive a diploma.

Statewide, less than 20 percent of special education students who took the exit exam passed it when it was administered last March.

“Changes don’t happen overnight,” said Robert Madrazo, director of special education at San Benito High School. “Each kid has a different story.”

Of the 51 juniors in special education at SBHS, 23 have not passed either the math or English/language arts sections of the exit exam, according to numbers supplied by Michael Robustelli, director of curriculum and instruction at SBHS. Eleven, or 21.5 percent, have passed both sections, 15 have passed only English and two passed only math. These numbers do not count last week’s test.

Since Anzar High School has less than 15 special education students, numbers were not released to protect students’ identity, said Pippia Pensotti, coordinator of special education for the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District. Pensotti did say that of the 12 Anzar special education students who took the exit exam in March 2001, none passed.

“Some students’ (impairments) don’t allow them to take the test – they are severely disabled,” Robustelli said.

Almost all special education students graduate with a diploma, either with the regular curriculum or with a modified form, Madrazo said. The exit exam is a hurdle these students may not overcome for a variety of reasons.

Special education includes students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and those with mental retardation. Students with severe disabilities may require an aide to write for them or read to them. Some may need a calculator to do high-level math.

The most difficult part for some schools is that special education students have been taught based on an Individualized Education Plan instead of curriculum drawn from State of California standards.

An IEP, required by state law, identifies a student’s specific learning expectations and outlines how the school will address these expectations through appropriate special education programs and services. It also identifies the methods by which a student’s progress will be reviewed.

Because of their IEP, some students are never taught the material on the exit exam. But Madrazo said SBHS has already aligned the special education curriculum to the state’s content standards. Those content standards are in the process of being written into IEPs, he said.

“I’m concerned, but I’m optimistic at the same time,” Madrazo said.

There is a breakdown of accommodations and modifications allowed for special education students while they take the exit exam. Students needing assistance fall into one of three categories – the testing condition is available to students who regularly use it in the classroom; accommodation available only to students with documentation in their IEP or 504 plan (a planned program of instructional services to assist students with special needs who are in a regular education setting, but who are not necessarily classified as a special education student); and modification (which alters what the test measures) available only to students with documentation in their IEP or 504 plan.

For instance, according to the breakdown, a student needing an exit exam in Braille has to have documentation of the need in their IEP or 504 plan. Also, needing test questions to be simplified or clarified is available to students who use it regularly in class.

The State Board of Education recognizes that accommodations are “to compensate for extraneous factors unrelated to the academic skills being assessed,” according to its Web site. But a modification such as a calculator alters what the test is measuring.

Although the exit exam of a student using a modification will be graded “not valid,” students can answer enough questions correctly to obtain the equivalent of a passing score and apply for a waiver – which must receive approval by the school’s governing board or board of trustees.

But the state Board of Education would like students to try the test first before applying for a waiver. This is the first year waivers are determined on the local level as opposed to the state level. So far, neither Anzar nor SBHS has any special education students using the waiver.

“It depends on the student. None have pursued (the waiver),” Pensotti said.

For the board to approve a waiver, the principal must prove the student has an IEP that requires accommodations or modifications on the exit exam; that the student shows evidence of having completed or is completing sufficient high school level coursework; and that the student has received the equivalent of a passing score on the exit exam while using a modification that alters what the test is measuring. With the waiver, the students will still receive their diploma.

“We’re just trying to keep up with the new regulations,” Madrazo said.

While Madrazo is concerned for special education students, he is optimistic. He said the students have a number of opportunities to pass the exit exam and the school is working with students through after-school tutorials and a summer school program.

While the State Board of Education could decide this summer to delay the consequences of the exit exam requirement beyond the class of 2004, many lawsuits have already been filed in the name of special education students. An Oakland lawyer has sued the state on behalf of the California’s 173,470 disabled high school students, claiming the exam is a “disaster in the making.” Pensotti said she thinks such lawsuits will be ongoing.

For more information, go to www.cde.ca.gov/statetests/cahsee.

Previous articleGolden State Exam may turn to dust
Next articleSmallpox vaccine plan for county
A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here