At least 90 percent of tenth graders in the William S. Hart Union High School District pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) on their first try, according to figures released today by the California Department of Education. Like the state, students in the Hart District have made small gains in the number of students who pass the test when they take it the first time, compared to last year.
Among tenth graders who took the CAHSEE last March, 90 percent passed both tests, 91 percent passed math only and 90 percent passed English/language arts only. The results for March 2008 were 89 percent passing both tests, 89 percent passing math only and 89 percent passing English/language arts only.
Those figures includes English language learners and students in special education, who also must pass the exit exam in order to earn their high school diplomas, according to Dave LeBarron, the Hart District's director of curriculum and assessment.
Every tenth grader takes the CAHSEE for the first time in March, with a make-up test in May for those who were absent at the March testing and for high school seniors seeking one more chance to pass the exam. The state figures released today include results from both the March and May test cycles.
"We are pleased with the results," LeBarron commented. "Our pass rate is quite a bit higher than both the state and the county."
Overall, 90 percent of Hart District students passed the English/language arts portion of the test in 2009, compared with 77 percent of Los Angeles County tenth graders and 79 percent in the state. In math, 91 percent of Hart District students passed the first time compared with 77 percent in Los Angeles County and 80 percent in the state.
The graduating class of 2009 was the fourth required to pass the CAHSEE, and less than three percent of Hart District seniors failed to receive diplomas because they did not pass one or more sections of the exit exam. The district has created a number of intervention programs to help students who do not pass the test the first time they try-primarily English language learners and students in special education.
Every comprehensive high school in the Hart District achieved a pass rate in the mid-80 to mid-90 percent range. The number of students taking the test at Bowman and Learning Post high schools was too small to translate into a meaningful percentage rate, and Academy of the Canyons did not have a tenth grade. Early College High School, whose tenth graders will be part of AOC's graduating class in 2011, achieved a 100 percent pass rate in both portions of the test.
Hispanic or Latino students ran slightly below the Hart District average, with a 79 percent pass rate in English/language arts, still above the county average for all students, and equal to the overall state average. English learners scored a 53 percent pass rate, but Hart District English learners who had been redesignated as proficient in English achieved a 94 percent pass rate, which is greater than Hart District students who were listed as English speakers or non-native English speakers who entered the district already fluent in English.
Once students have passed the exit exam, they do not take the test again. Those who fail one or both portions of the test can re-take the exam several times a year until the end of their senior year. Those who complete all of their course requirements in the Hart District but do not pass the CAHSEE are allowed to participate in high school graduation ceremonies and receive a certificate of completion in lieu of a diploma.
The percentage of Hart District tenth graders who pass both parts of the CAHSEE on their first try has remained near the 90 percent mark since the test was first introduced by the state of California. The CAHSEE pass rate is one measure of Adequate Yearly Progress which the federal government uses to assess the quality of education in schools across the nation.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the results of this year's testing showed positive progress.
"I am pleased to see that these results show that California's high school students are continuing to meet the challenge of higher expectations," said O'Connell. "It is vitally important that young people know and understand the subject matter tested on the high school exit exam whether they are heading to college or directly into the workforce. The CAHSEE helps us ensure that each student is prepared with the critical basic skills needed for future success."
Statewide, approximately 90.6 percent, or 432,900 students, in the Class of 2009 successfully passed both the English-language arts and mathematics portions of the CAHSEE. The passage rate for the graduating class of 2009 is slightly higher than the 90.4 percent passage rate for the Class of 2008 at the same point in time. In addition, 56.6 percent of students receiving special education services in the Class of 2009 have successfully met the graduation requirement, an increase of 2 percentage points over the Class of 2008 at the same point in time.
The latest data indicate that an increasing percentage of students are passing the exam on their first opportunity in the tenth grade: 79.2 percent of the Class of 2011 has already passed the English-language arts portion, compared to 77.1 percent of tenth graders in the Class of 2008. In mathematics, the passage rate for first-time test taker has increased to 79.8 percent, an increase of 4.3 percent over the Class of 2008.
Students who have failed one or both parts of the CAHSEE by the end of their senior year are eligible to continue to take the test and earn a high school diploma.
An agreement between the Governor and the state Legislature during July's budget negotiations suspended the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement beginning this current school year for eligible students with disabilities who have individualized education plans or Section 504 plans. For additional information please visit: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/cahseeABx4.asp 
"This action represents an irresponsible and shortsighted shift in education policy that threatens to shortchange the quality of education for our students with disabilities," O'Connell said. "Eliminating this requirement for students with disabilities who are on a diploma track does nothing to help prepare them for success after high school. The CAHSEE requirement has pushed our system to better serve students with disabilities, and thousands of students with disabilities have been successful on this test. When given the appropriate support, students with disabilities who are on a diploma track can meet the CAHSEE challenge, which will better prepare these students for meaningful employment and higher education."
The suspension of the CAHSEE requirement for students with disabilities will remain in effect until the State Board of Education determines that a potential alternative is not feasible and/or that an alternative means are implemented. O'Connell has formed an advisory committee to examine alternative options for students with disabilities.
School-, district-, county-, and state-level results for the CAHSEE have been posted on the CDE Web site at http://cahsee.cde.ca.gov .