Senate Bill No. 725 (SB 725), as codified by Education Code section 60851.1, provides that the California High School Exit Exam shall not be required as a condition of receiving a diploma of graduation, or a condition of graduation from high school for a student completing grade 12 in 2015, and who has met all other high school graduation requirements. Under previous state law, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, with the approval of the State Board of Education, was required to develop a high school exit examination in English language arts and mathematics in accordance with state academic content standards. Each student completing grade 12 was required to successfully pass the high school exit examination as a condition of receiving a diploma of graduation or a condition of graduation from high school, as specified. Existing law eliminates the California High School Exit Exam graduation requirement for the 2015 high school seniors who were unsuccessful in passing the exam.
A dilemma arose when about 5,000 California students were denied the opportunity to retake the California High School Exit Exam in July 2015. The California Department of Education cancelled the exam because its contract with the testing company that administered the test expired, and education officials wanted to avoid spending approximately $11 million to renew this contract on the basis that the exam was outdated and did not align well with the new Common Core standards.
On August 26, 2015, Governor Brown signed SB 725, which eliminates the California High School Exit Exam graduation requirement for 2015 high school seniors who did not pass the exam. SB 725 takes effect immediately, as an urgency statute, necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, or safety as consistent with the California Constitution.
Senate Bill No. 172 (SB 172) has also been proposed to suspend the California High School Exit Exam through 2017-18 and to convene an advisory panel to provide recommendations to the Superintendent of Public Instruction on the continuation of the high school exit examination and on alternative pathways to satisfy specified high school graduation requirements.
SB 725 most significantly affects 2015 high school seniors who were unsuccessful in passing the exam: student college admission offers were rescinded, students were denied the opportunity to join the military, and employment offers were withdrawn. Because 2015 high school seniors are now exempt from passing the exam, school districts should immediately issue diplomas to qualified high school seniors, and assist affected 2015 high school seniors to contact colleges, the military and employers to advise them of California law’s immediate change.
School districts should continue preparing 2016 high schools seniors for the exam. Even though it is unclear whether the California Department of Education will enter into another contract with the testing company to administer the test, or whether SB 172 will pass, nothing should prohibit school districts from offering test preparation to needy high school seniors.
If your school district has any questions regarding the implementation of, and compliance with, SB 725, please contact a DWK attorney.