California's high school exit exam to change

To graduate this year, high school senior Nadira Wasi faces a requirement that no class before hers has the state's high school exit exam. Wasi, 17, is part of a program for students who need extra assistance in school. She passed the English section but has twice failed the math portion.

On Wednesday, 20 high school seniors and their parents sued the state Department of Education and school Superintendent Jack O'Connell, claiming the exam is illegal and discriminatory. They worry the test may prevent the students from graduating. "I don't think it should hold up your graduation," said Wasi, who is not part of the lawsuit but would be affected if it is successful.

The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco County Superior Court. It seeks a court injunction to delay the consequences of the exam for students in this year's class. Defendants also include the state of California and the state Board of Education.

Lead attorney Arturo Gonzalez said the lawsuit likely will expand to represent tens of thousands of students who have met all local requirements to graduate except passing both sections of the exam. "Many students in California have not been given a fair opportunity to learn the material on the exam," Gonzalez said. "These are good kids who have worked hard for 13 years to pass their courses."

Gonzalez said the state failed to study alternatives for students who could not pass the test, particularly students who are nonnative speakers of English, as the legislation required when lawmakers approved the exam in 1999. The lawsuit also claims the state is denying some students their fundamental right to an equal education.

Department of Education spokeswoman Hilary McLean said she had no immediate comment on the lawsuit because department officials had not seen it. But O'Connell, who helped write the exit exam legislation, said last month he had considered alternative assessments for students who fail to pass the exam before deciding against them. The state held a public hearing in December to take comments on its options.

O'Connell has said that students who fail the exam can take another year of high school, get extra tutoring, enroll in summer school or attend community college until they pass. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger included $40 million ( Ђ 33.5 million) for tutorial programs in his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Nationwide, 23 states have graduation exams and four more are phasing them in by 2012, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy. Most states offer options for students with special needs and nonnative speakers of English, center president Jack Jennings said.

At the start of this school year, about 100,000 seniors in California had not passed at least one of the sections more than one-fifth of the state's roughly 450,000 high school seniors. State officials have said they do not have updated figures, although they say the number is much lower now because students have had several chances to take the exam this school year, reports the AP.

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