Exam waivers ensure diplomas for all CHS students

Claremont High School has an exemplary graduation rate, says Bonnie Bell, assistant superintendent of educational services for the local school district.

The number of CHS students graduating with a regular diploma, 99.9 percent, extends to those with disabilities, Ms. Bell notes.

The fact that virtually every student graduates is particularly impressive because, since 2005-2006, there has been an additional academic hurtle for those aiming for a diploma.

It’s called the California High School Exit Exam or the CAHSEE, and was created by the California Department of Education to improve the academic performance of high school students in the state. Teens get their first shot at taking the test their sophomore year. If they fail to pass one or both of the 2 test sections, they get up to 8 further test opportunities before the end of their senior year.

For some students with physical or learning disabilities, passing the CAHSEE exam can be a challenge. And yet, most people would agree that this subgroup of the population shiould be awarded a diploma given that they have strived for 4 years to complete a thorough course of high school study.

For a student struggling with a significant impairment, getting through classes alone requires a momentous effort.

“Most students with disabilities work harder than the average student, just in everyday functions,” notes Erin, a college psychology major with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus in her blog, which she has titled “Healthy, Unwealthy and Becoming Wise.”  

With this in mind, high schools across the country are required to provide testing accommodations or modifications for disabled students who have an individual education plan (IEP). This includes the CAHSEE along with various other assessments. 

An accommodation might including administering the CAHSEE in a smaller group of students, or allotting more time for a student to complete the test than was given to the general student population.

For other students, more help is required. Their IEP team works together to come up with appropriate modifications, which might include allowing a student to use a calculator for the math section of the CAHSEE. Students may need to have the English Language aspect of the test read aloud, or communicated through manually-coded English or sign language, Ms. Bell explained.

When a student passes the exit exam with modifications, state regulations require their school district board of education to authorize a waiver for the CAHSEE. The students then are granted a diploma.

At the July 12 meeting of the Claremont Unified School District board, members voted to authorize CAHSEE waivers for 8 CHS students. 

“It’s pretty routine,” Ms. Bell noted. “We’ve done the waiver every year since the CAHSEE has been in place.”

The Department of Education had hoped to provide a modified version of the CAHSEE by the 2009-2010 school year, aimed at making the exam more accessible for disabled students.

 “The exemption was put in place because it never happened,” Ms. Bell said.

The school board didn’t pipe in “Pomp and Circumstance”—the traditional musical send-off for high school graduates—as they OK’d the waivers.

Nonetheless, their actions ensured a local group of hardworking students will receive a hard-won diploma.

—Sarah Torribio





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