February 16, 2006
Passing the High School Test
Arturo Gonzalez is a formidable attorney. The son of unschooled
immigrants, he graduated from the UC-Davis, then Harvard Law School.
Today, he is a partner at Morrison & Foerster. Last week, he
told The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, "If
(state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack) O'Connell had
been my superintendent" when he was going to high school, "I
would not have gotten a diploma."
represents parents and students who are suing the state of California
to put off -- once again -- the year when California students
must pass an exit exam in order to receive a high-school diploma
-- as mandated by a 1999 law. The lawyer's argument is that it
is unfair to not grant a diploma to a student who has completed
13 years of school and repeatedly received passing grades in math,
English and other classes, because the student cannot pass "one
is that it is really not fair to graduate a high-school senior
who can't handle basic math and English. The whole point of the
exit exam was to make sure that students who go to low-performing
schools get, at the very least, a basic education. If Gonzalez
wins, ignorance scores a victory.
A few other
points: The exit exam is not a one-time sink-or-swim test. Students
begin taking the exit exams' two tests -- a 9th-grade-level-math
test and 10th-grade-level-English test -- in the sophomore year.
Students need to score at least 55 percent in math -- which is
multiple choice, so students only have to figure out which one
of four answers is correct -- and at least 60 percent in English
have passed a test, they never have to take it again.
fail, they can retake one or both tests twice in the junior year,
then three times in the senior year. As O'Connell sees it -- and
he wrote the exit-exam bill -- if you fail the test, "It
simply means your education is not complete." You don't have
the minimum skills to succeed in this economy.
noted that failing doesn't end a student's options. Those who
fail can take a summer-school course or attend an extra year of
school, or take the test without going to class for an "unlimited"
number of tries.
-- as tacky commercials exhort -- there's more. School districts
can elect to grant certificates of completion for students who
pass other school requirements, but fail the test.
who flunk the test also can go for a GED or earn a high-school
diploma through an adult-education program.
argued that some students know the material, but fail because
of "test anxiety." To the extent that is true, these
kids don't stand a chance in real life. How can they survive a
job interview? Or athletic competition? Gonzalez says one of his
students wants to be a firefighter. That student will have to
pass tests to become a firefighter -- or should cities dump firefighter
tests, too, in the hope that recruits won't be too anxious when
a fire alarm sounds?
in his suit is Liliana Valenzuela, who has a 3.84 grade-point
average and is 12th in her senior class of 413 students. She passed
the math test the first time, but has failed the English test,
Gonzalez said, because she came here from Mexico four years ago.
want to go to college and become a registered nurse," Liliana
wrote in a statement. "But this exam is unfair. I really
want to wear my cap and gown, and I don't know what to do to make
my dream a reality."
I know what
she can do: Study harder.
a legal loophole around the exit exam will not make this young
lady educated or help make her dream to be a nurse come true.
If she cannot pass the exit exam, how can she survive college?
It is harsh
to not grant a full diploma to students who have completed their
coursework. It also is harsh to allow students to enter adulthood
unable to read instructions on appliances or without understanding
what it means when a sale price is 25 percent off.
On a personal
note, Gonzalez told The Chronicle about his high-school
career. He knew from a young age, he said, that he wanted to be
a trial lawyer. But he was not good at math, and he needed to
take algebra to get into UC.
Gonzalez took algebra and passed. Actually, Gonzalez would have
had a diploma under O'Connell.
he wants California schools to demand less than they demanded
of him. He believes he is protecting minority students and immigrants,
but he is protecting their right to graduate without 9th-grade-math
skills or the ability to read what a sophomore should be able
It may well
be that if Arturo Gonzalez had a lawyer like him when he was a
student, he would not be the lawyer he is today.
2006 Creators Syndicate