No exit exam, no stage

Some high schools offer seniors a certificate of completion and allow them to walk the stage if they haven’t passed the high school exit exam — as long as those students have met other graduation requirements.

There’s no such gray area in Oakland.

A few dozen students walked out of Oakland High School this afternoon to protest the district policy. Youth organizers estimate that 15 Oakland High seniors passed all other graduation hurdles but the test.

Jessica Williams, 18, is one of those students. She said she is determined to graduate, but that she feels the district’s policy is depriving her of a rite of passage. “When you walk across the stage, you start as a high school student and you end as an adult,” she told me.

Alex Katz, the school district’s spokesperson, said the students have the opportunity to take a free exit exam prep course and another class at Laney College. “We would rather have students study for a month, pass it in July and leave the school district with a real diploma, college credit and a foot in the door in college,” he said.

An organizer from Californians for Justice tells us that a big demonstration on the issue is in the works for Wednesday.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.greenstampede.com Chris Dobbins

    This is an email that I sent yesterday to an Organizer with Californians for Justice and the rally at Oakland High School on June 7, 2007:

    Thank you for your email and your concern for students’ rights. I went through the Oakland Public Schools as a student (Skyline 1990) and i actually led a sit-in and protest at Montera when the Principal wanted to shut down our school paper. SF State Professor Joaquin Alvarado co-led the protest when we were in 9th grade.

    As far as the CAHSEE, I have to admit, I have very mixed feelings about it. Initially, I was dead-set against it and I am still very much opposed to the mandatory nature for special ed students. I also have to admit, though, that there has to be a standard for achievement. I understand that not all students have the same skills and the same backgrounds. My mother came here as an immigrant from Syria/Lebanon, but she still made it to college. I was very privileged to grow up in the Oakland Hills and both of my parents went to college. That is a huge advantage that many of our students do not have. That being said, many of our Oakland students without these advantages are still passing the exam. The exam is written at a 10th grade level for English and an 8th grade level for Math. I taught middle school in Oakland over a ten year period (last year I taught 6th grade at Bret Harte) and I believe that our students should be pushed to pass the exam. As a teacher, if my students do not pass, then I have failed, but It also puts some accountability on the students. The teachers and parents can only do so much. I am not sure how much you have taught school, but it is difficult. I would also like to see that the students that generally protest the CAHSEE and are the most vociferous opponents of it, have all probably passed the exam themselves. In addition, the students have known about this exam for at least 4 years and have had at least 6 times to pass it. I agree that there should be more resources assigned, but the OUSD is currently $113 million in debt.

    I know about failing exams. I am taking the California Bar Exam this summer for the 5th time! I have learning disabilities (ADD), but i know that I will not be able to practice law until i pass the exam. I respect your right to protest and to lead the walkout. If I was the principal at Oakland High, i would not mark anyone absent and i would let them march. However, I respectully disagree with your postion. Currently, Board President David Kakishiba has requested that the students will receive Certificates of Completion for their work in attending school, but not a diploma and will not be able to walk the stage. I agree with that position.

    As a final point, I just returned from two weeks in China. While I understand that not everyone attends high school there, the students that do attend all must take and pass their exit exams. As you know, China is poised to be a great economic power and our students will be competing more closely with them. We need to be more forward thinking in Oakland and we need to focus our energy to get our students to pass the exam. Best of luck with your march tomorrow.

    Chris Dobbins

  • Albert B. Franklin

    Why go to class, when all you have to do is pass the exit exam? Once kids in grammar school figure that out, they’ll all be studying to take it earlier!