The latest high school exit exam results


Talk about a high-stakes test. Unless you pass both sections of the California High School Exit Exam — English and math — you don’t get a high school diploma.

Students take the exam for the first time as 10th-graders (the test includes some Algebra I concepts and English standards through grade 10) and they may retake it several times in their junior and senior years. Last year, 100 percent of the students in Piedmont Unified passed both subjects as 10th-graders, and the same was true this year at the American Indian Public High School.

I put together a spreadsheet with four pages that breaks down the first-time pass rates by district and race/ethnicity and highlights changes (by district in Alameda and Contra Costa counties) from last year to this year.

Tab 4 — titled “OUSD” —  lists Oakland’s high schools, including charters,  in alphabetical order and then, below, sorts them from highest to lowest 10th-grade pass rates in each subject. The charter schools are definitely clustered at the top.

Or, if you prefer, you can go straight to the source: the CDE’s CAHSEE website.

I was struck by the large gap in 10th-grade pass rates between OUSD’s low-income, black and Latino students and their similarly classified peers statewide (see the “race-ethnicity” tab). Why do you think that is?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Ralph

    One plausible explanation is income and value disparities for drive the ethnic deltas while value and relative percentage disparities are possible culprits the for low income deltas.

    It could be that relative to the state Oakland has a higher percentage of low income African-Americans and Latinos and while it is not always true, it is possible that they don’t place the same value on education as higher income counterparts in the rest of the state.

  • Jenna


    I keep hearing the term “High Stakes Test” like I hear the term “Big Oil.”

    However, what this test seems to tell us is that teachers, principals, parents and the community have a responsibility to educate these students so that they are college-ready and career-ready. Without this “High Stakes Test” we used to give them a diploma, a pat on the back and send them into the work world where they were not employable or sent them to a junior college to take remedial classes, the same education they were entitled to in middle school and high school.

    When the students cannot pass the tests, how long do you think it is before a perspective or actual employer notices? What about the civil service exam to get a government job? Could they even have passed an exam to get in to the military? And once they were in the military were they doomed to be sent to the front lines for the rest of their lives because they did not get the education we are responsible for providing as an American society?

    Call it a “High Stakes Test” if you want, but at least we know we are failing these students. At least we know where our mistakes lie. And at least we know what they don’t know and what we need to teach them.

  • Katy Murphy

    You raise an interesting point, Jenna.

    By the way, in using that cliche — “high-stakes test” — I’m not inferring that the high school exit exam is a good or a bad idea. Just that its results have a direct effect on the student who takes it, as opposed to the CST. But you’re right, if a student fails a test that measures 10th-grade English standards or basic math skills, those knowledge gaps are likely to show up later (or sooner) in life.

  • Nextset

    These are actually IQ tests, you know.

    The results are going to Bell Curve out just as all the IQ tests do.

    Poor Asians outscore wealthy White Groups, Poor Whites outscore wealthy black Groups. The usual, Asians, Whites, Hispanics, Blacks pass rates in that group order.

    Whites consider these exit exams a joke and their children tend to pass them at 14. The exit exam is normed at (national) 8th grade level. It was to be set for 10th grade level but that produced politically unacceptable results (overwhelming black and brown failure). You cannot set the pass level high enough for it to be a challenge for Asians and Whites and still have it politically acceptable to Hispanics and Blacks.

    I support the notion of a High School Exit exam because we cannot trust the corrupt education system not to inflate grades to the point of meaningless. This test serves as a check on rad-lib schools passing off illiterates as “educated” high school students.


    We don’t need a statewide pass rate set any higher than the most basic lowest common denominator – below which no one is permitted to go forth and claim to possess a high school “education”. So I would oppose raising the pass level higher than the “8th grade” (if that’s what it is) level it is now.

    Like it or not the whole thing is a race issue. This is a time pressure test. It measures brain processing speed among other things. It’s results are not how much you have “learned”.

    And no amount of “education” is going to change the results in your test population. Students with IQs of 85 and below are going to always have real trouble with this testing – giving them smaller classes or summer school lessons all you want. It’s not going to make a significant difference. It’s a time pressure test, people!

    I do have a problem with students who are known to have below average IQs being berated that they are failing such tests because they didn’t “study” enough. As if that is the reason for the results.

    Time pressure testing is designed to give the advantage to quicker minds. You don’t quicken a mind’s thought process by “studying” or cramming. Coaching and proper rest will help to a point and that point can be overcome with a long and exhaustive test such as the California Bar Exam – another example of a time pressure test designed to eliminate certain people.

    So while this test has some role in education it is not the be all and end all, and Oakland Unified should make it clear that they are not competing with Piedmont and they never will as the demographics are irreconcilable.

  • TheTruthHurts

    OK, like these tests or not they are now determining who gets a diploma and therefore who gets a job. When will someone wake and either abolish the tests or start teaching our children to pass them?

    Nextset, you’re full of it. I’ve seen folks increase their scores DRAMATICALLY on these tests, from the SAT, ACT, LSAT and even the State Bar exam. The fact that poverty and cultural bias toward education are reflected on tests results is not some revelation, nor is it anything racial in a genetic or even “look-see” sense.

    Life is not nearly as simple as you’d like to make it.

  • HS Math Teacher

    Is there a reason that Media Academy at the Fremont HS campus was not included?

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, but not a good one! I’ll add it in. Thanks for the catch.

  • “This is why I teach”


    Thank you for publishing these great data points. What is most tragic is that because the CAHSEE is based on 6-8th* grade standards Oakland’s low scores are show that only 60% of 10th graders can pass a middle school English exam and only 58% can pass a middle school math exam. (*The CAHSEE covers some 9th grade Algebra/Geometry standards, but they are basically the same as the 6-8 standards, with a tad more rigor.)

    Wow. The African American math score is staggeringly low.

    I have a few questions:
    1) What happened in Emeryville to cause a 19%+ drop in their CAHSEE passage rates?
    2) What makes the American Indian Charter network so strong? They have the highest scores in Oakland and I’m curious about what makes their academic formula more successful than other charters, as well as district schools. (All I’ve heard is a rumor that the school is not very open to visitors or observations and that it only teaches Math and English.)

    Jenna – I agree with you. Educators really need to evaluate this subset of students who meet all other graduation requirements with the exception of passing the Exit Exam. The budget cuts basically eliminated adult education. I don’t know the exact consequences those cuts had on GED programs, but I do know that such programs require much more independence and internal motivation from the students than are required of a traditional high school student. How do these students feel about themselves? How do they explain their high school graduation status to employers? I think that the students who are still invested in graduating but are unable to pass the CAHSEE are pure evidence of the achievement gap. They didn’t give up, yet they are extremely far behind. What is the answer for these students? Do we need more for more vocational programs? Or do we need to address the problem by improving instruction MUCH earlier on?

  • Ralph

    Not all students should or need to attend to college, but all students will eventually need to function as a productive member of society. Truth is most of what you need in every day society is at the 8th grade level. So, if one can pass this test, then one is functionally literate.

    Nextset, you have a point regarding processing information. But I am not sure I would say that poor performers have below average IQ.

    I worked with some high schoolers who required a minute to compute 12 squared and some who still need to use fingers to do the 9s table. It is highly unlikely that these students are going to be able to process the questions at the speed necessary to complete the test successfully. We need to address this problem earlier. When students don’t learn this by the 4th grade, we can pretty much predict how well they will do on these tests. Problem is the conditions which inhibit their learning have more to do with adverse social conditions which inhibit normal development.

    The Truth, you can not teach to the test. Teaching to the test does not help students learn and as I stated above, if a student is not at grade level in the 4th grade, then you one can pretty much predict that this student is not going to pass the CAHSEE.

  • Ralph

    Why I Teach, Per my review of the AIM mission, it appears that they set the bar higher and require more from their students than is typically required in public schools.

  • Gordon Danning

    “This Is Why I Teach”:

    Re Emeryville, the entire school (which includes grades 7-12) has only about 400 students. So, they probably have no more than 60-70 10th graders. With such a small population, a swing of 19% probably just reflects a weak class (just as Oakland High’s 10 graders last year were a weak class — I will bet that we will be celebrating an “increase” next year when this year’s 10th graders outperform last year’s). In fact, is a 19% change even statistically significant, with such a small population?

  • John Glover

    “This Is Why I Teach”:

    If you are interested to learn more about our schools, please visit. All we ask of our visitors is that they not interrupt our students or teachers in the classroom. (They are hard at work!) Otherwise, all are welcome. You will see a rich curriculum that includes English, math, history, science, drama, and Mandarin, among other classes.

    Our students work incredibly hard. They sacrifice. They behave according to the standards set by the school. They do all of this because they rightly believe through hard work they can achieve success. Despite their youth, they have learned to take the long view. They come in early, stay late, and do hours of homework each night, even during vacations. They attend summer school. They accept that there are no shortcuts. They compete against themselves and against one another.

    Our teachers work incredibly hard, too. Like the kids, they come in early and stay late. They take the success and failure of each of their students personally. They come in on the weekends to work with kids who are falling behind. They come in and teach when they’re a little under the weather. They visit sick students at home to make sure they keep up with the class.

    As a school, we work to make sure that every student has the skills needed to become academically successful. We are never complacent. We refuse to lower our expectations of anyone. If a student is struggling to meet our standards, we don’t make things easier, we simply provide additional support. When a kid fails, we don’t blame the kid, or the parents, or poverty, or race, or the state budget. We blame ourselves. We take responsibility, and we do whatever we can to make it better.

    In the last three years, every student at AIPHS has passed both sections of the CAHSEE on their first try. In the last two years, every graduating senior has been accepted to a four year college (including Stanford, Berkeley, MIT, and Cornell). Last year over 70% of the senior class received a passing score on the AP Calculus AB exam. In 2009, we had more black and Latino kids pass this exam than the rest of the schools in the District combined. 51% of juniors received a passing score on the AP English Language/Composition exam. Over 55% of sophomores received a passing score on the AP World History exam. These students are learning more than just facts and dates. They are learning to think and read critically, and to write thoughtfully.

    It is hard work, but it is uncomplicated. The three American Indian Schools and two Oakland Charter Academy schools are using the American Indian Model with tremendous success. Truly, I hope all of those who are curious will come and see for themselves. It would make us happy to have others take our ideas and use them to help the students at their own schools.

    John Glover
    COO AIM Schools

  • Hot R

    Weren’t we just talking about Oakland’s incredibly low STAR test results and someone claimed that it didn’t matter because the kids didn’t take it seriously? And wasn’t there a further claim that the data was unreliable because the tests didn’t “match” what the students were taught in class? So far this is incredible – no excuses being made now? This is an 8th grade test given to 10th graders, and it is common knowledge that they must pass. Obviously it is a priority for schools like American Indian, but not at the vast majority.

    “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him Horatio – a fellow of infinite jest… “

  • Anon79

    Mr. Glover- American Indian is definitely doing some great things, which you deserve to be proud of. There’s a lot that other schools can and should learn from your successes. However, I think you should be transparent about your retention strategy/procedure b/c I believe it’s one reason why your stat’s are so good. Do you have some statistics about your retained students that you can share(how they do the following year, how many of them actually stay at AIPS, etc.).

    From what I’ve seen, students who receive just one grade lower than a C are not promoted to the next grade. So it’s no wonder that most (if not the only??) students who take the CAHSEE at AIPS got to 10th grade at American Indian, and thus were proficient in order to get there. Students who are recommended for retention more than once may be told that “it doesn’t seem to be working out for you here, perhaps this isn’t the right fit”… Mr. Glover, please do correct me if I’m wrong, and as I said some clarification would be great. It’s outstanding that AIPS is holding students to high standards, but lets get all the facts out there…

    Perhaps Katy can write an article on retention alone- Making sure students are advanced/proficient before passing them on sounds good, but most parents don’t want 14 year old students in classes with their 5th graders… and would that really be best for the 14 y/o’s?? Maybe there is a middle ground somewhere…

  • Catherine

    Anon79: I personally know two students accepted into American Indian Charter.

    Student 1 – Male, ELA at Basic, Math slightly below Proficient (a couple of points away from proficient), Science Far Below Basic. Suspended several times in elementary school. Latino – Family is on Aid – No Father in the Home – Accepted at AIPS.

    Student 2 – Female, ELA and Math at Basic, Science Far Below Basic. Two parent family living below the poverty line. Poor attendance in public school. Latina Accepted to AIPS.

    Both students had to take the Summer School to work on catching up. Both students had a lot of adjustments. No one pushed them out, everyone coached them to work harder. Students called teachers in the evening for help.

    These students were attending a public elementary school where little or no social studies or science was taught. Student number 1 actually cried in the hallway before his CST for science saying he went on line to take the practice test and “I didn’t know nothing.”

    Anon79 – say what you will, but our local public school was failing these students. Let’s say for whatever reason they don’t stay – they learned more in a few weeks of summer school that they did in one full year of elementary school in ELA and Math and two years of science.

  • Nextset

    Truth Hurts: Your point is?? Of course test scores on the SAT & LSAT can be increased dramatically with coaching. Coaching on the test will allow a candidate to get a score reflective of their best. It will not allow an IQ of 85 to test out as a 115.

    And believe me, 85s are not taking the LSAT.

    The students much below 85 are often gone gone gone by the end of 12th grade, they are your drop outs and throw aways – and your retarded students (70 and below).

    The fact remains that time pressure testing especially those requiring reading comprehension, fine distinctions and calculations, are IQ tests. We are using this test to block diplomas from those who test out too low. Not a bad thing if the Diploma is to mean something. The diploma means the holder is not an idiot. Too many idiots were getting diplomas for the taste of the legislature and the people.

    Ralph: I have a student I worked with who had some trouble passing high school and more or less flunked out of Jr College. These results were at odds to his clearly demonstrated intelligence. He did poorly on all the screening tests. I booked him an appointment with a psychiatrist, he was tested and placed on Rx for Attention Deficit Disorder. He is now working in the Bay Area at $10k a month as a licensed professional after two years of training (I still can’t believe that cash flow). In hindsight this should have been done years earlier but the parents didn’t believe in psychiatry. I remember him saying to me that he was able to think and concentrate in school for the first time ever when on the drugs.

    There are many reasons why people don’t test out to their potential. Sleep disturbances will also throw it off, so will other medical issues. A good school, good parents, good Dr or good luck will make sure the student is doing the best they can. Some people walk in with no obstacles to testing, some have baggage from bio mom & dad, physical, cultural or bad house.

    The fact remains that this is a time pressure & high stakes test that most children nationally breeze through but the black kids don’t.

    Yes there are things the schools can do to improve their black student’s odds on the standardized tests. Those “things” are not pleasant for the students. Kind of like black students at McGeorge Law School. But try as you might you are not going to make a low IQ students test out as a high IQ student. You don’t have to, you are just making them pass a cut off on a large screening test.

  • Nextset

    PS: The California and New York Bar Exams are one of the ultimate time pressure tests. The Medical National Boards are also.

    Look up the racial breakdowns on those tests. The CA Bar results are online at CALBAR.Org.

    Truth Hurts seems to insinuate that one can be coached through those exams – dramatically increasing the score. Well not exactly. No amount of coaching or studying can make someone with no significant aptitude ever pass the CA Bar Exam. Black Law Student Failure rates on the CA and NY exam are very distinct and high and there are those who write that it’s fraudulent for the schools to accept the numbers of black applicants they do knowing to a certainty that the high number of them will never pass the bar. It’s argued that the law schools create the black failure rate by enrolling students they know will fail, enrolling them for the schools’ own political & economic self-serving reasons. It is suggested that higher LSAT score minimums be imposed with the black students or at a minimum a dire warning issued that at certain scores the student is statistically certain to never be able to practice law – and any student “loans” be blocked at underwriting to prevent the failed students from being saddled with $100k + in nondischargable debt.

    Interesting thing about the Brave New World, the science of statistics and actuarial instruments have reached the point where you can accurately predict human behaviors – well enough to place your money on them. And this trend is accellerating.

    This high school exit exam is just the beginning of what the black students and all students will be encountering.

  • Owen

    Taking these comments in a different direction: I’m not as informed as many who follow Katy’s blog, so I’ll ask: If I were to read through these scores, why wouldn’t I immediately conclude that I should do everything I can to send my children to a charter school?

    (Please don’t tell me that it’s because they teach to the test and don’t offer deep and well-rounded instruction; I’m confident that at least two — which I’ve toured — are no more test-focused than their non-charter counterparts.)

  • J.R.

    You are correct, there is an old fashioned way of doing well on tests. If the requisite material is covered and the concepts explained to understanding the child should “then” do well on the test.

  • Nextset

    J.R. No.

    If the student is impaired, or not suited to the material or has no aptitude for the subject, no amount of “teaching” or “education” is going to “make” the student do well on the test.

    That is part of the problem with rad-lib educrats, they don’t want to explore or address the suitability issues, and on some level they don’t want to try and work with the students to make them more suitable either. They don’t want to “change” the students, preferring to “keep it real”.

    Correcting their English to begin with.

    Good schools do this. AIM for example.

  • Anti BS

    “John Glover” COO

    I know how you got your numbers; its easy but no one has said it outright.

    I visited your school. I asked aipcs leaders, I believe you were not a leader then, questions about the academic program and instructional strategies and all I got was a constant regurgitation about a model and about capitalism.

    Thats fine and all, but no one could tell me about the specifics of the instructioanl program other than that.

    Others that have visited, including national orgainzations, have said the same about your school.However, I liked the schools focus, but when you look at a sea of Chinese students (around 70%, some classes were even 100%) of the school’s population-the secret is no longer as such!

    This city has a 14% Asian population rate, but your schools have over 85% among all of your campus’?

    Amazing how the Asians only flock to YOUR charter isint it?

    Why, I truly think that your model is magic! ou should open in West Oakland, East Los Angeles, or the Bronx to spread the magic!

    I think the obvious is telling. I would like to hear from a teacher who has taught at your schools and then for a “real” demographic school to see what their experience was in comparison? I bet rough!

  • Ralph

    Nextset: Sometimes the reasons for why a student is performing poorly is so easy to correct but more often than not rarely considered. When I was a TA for an undergrad acctg class, one of my students was accused of cheating. I wasn’t in the room but I didn’t think it possible. I requested that he be tested for a learning disability. Problem solved. Grades improved in all classes.

    Anon79: If a school is holding back a student who is not performing at grade level, I would consider that a good thing. Schools that continually pass non-performers are not doing the students any favors. So if AIC achieves high test scores by leaving 2% behind that is certainly better than low test scores resulting at schools where all students are advanced regardless of ability.

  • http://www.movingforwardeducation.com Lacy Asbill

    Nextset: I work with some of the lowest-achieving students in OUSD; last year at Rudsdale (the “last stop” of OUSD continuation high schools), the group of students in my CAHSEE prep program had a 72% pass rate after six weeks of after-school instruction. Did their IQs transform overnight? No. They had access to a safe, nurturing, and rigorous environment to learn and ask questions. The CAHSEE is NOT an IQ or aptitude test, but an inventory of basic skills that ALL of our students deserve to be taught. We have to do better, period.

  • Nextset

    Lacy: I disagree on CAHSEE. Perhaps there is some middle ground. To the extent that test is a time pressure test involving calculations and comprehension it IS an IQ test – certainly to the extent that students from the different bands of IQ exposed to the same “education” are going to have radically different test results with the lower IQ students being unable to come near the performance of the higher IQ students.

    That fact that your students flunked the test at age 14, when other students breeze through it, then pass it closer to age 18 with your coaching – does not refute at all what I am saying.

    You should focus on why your kids don’t pass at age 14. Remember, the pass level for that test is that of a child – an “8th grader”. The fact that you manage to coach the hell out of your students and get a 72% rate on a child’s test from students that are essentially adults does in fact reflect what I say is happening.

    Good for you and the students that you managed the 72% – at last.

    It’s an IQ test. And you managed to get peak performance out of your class to finally “pass”. Don’t you see? Normal children reach that level at puberty.

    All you can do with the students is do the best you can for them and their future. My point is that there are ways for lower IQs – the left side of the Bell Curve – to make it in society. The way does NOT include trying to compete with the right side of the Bell Curve on their terms. Our schools should identify the left siders and give them the tools to prosper with what they have to work with. We do harm by foolishly trying to turn them into something they are not – college material. There’s too much earning power to be had in technical and other vocational skills.

  • Nextset

    Ralph – You are so right about the need for nurses and for medical screening in the public schools. I would cut the college prep budgets in a minute to fund the nurses and basic medical support budgets in the public schools. If a kid is diabetic and doesn’t know it, has severe dental carries, diminished vision, sleep apnea, tuberculosis, allergies, STDs, Psych disorders and ADD, (the list goes on) it’s going to affect not just the testing but all aspects of life in general. I believe the public schools do have a duty to force screening and response to these problems so that the kid doesn’t get to 11th grade with the lights on and no one home. Whether the school requires the Parent(s) to pay for the screenings or the school finds the funding these issues have to be controlled in the public schools and I think they used to be 60 years ago or more.

    I some of this the reason for the bad exit exams? It wouldn’t surprise me. Perhaps when the students are distinguishing themselves at puberty by failing the (IQ??) screenings the school medical officer should be reviewing their case to see if there is something treatable going on.

    That is if they even have a medical staff in these districts. They would if I were allocating the budget. But then they’d probably have driver’s ed classes also. You know how I’d balance the budget. It is more important to provide a floor for the proles than to provide a basketball team and calculus classes for the (relatively) few strivers.