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View From Lodi, CA: With California`s Exit Exam Gone, So Is Credibility
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May 19, 2006, 05:00 AM
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Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman`s decision to scuttle the California high school exit exam as a graduation requirement is a bad idea.

If you doubt me, dwell for a few moments on the comments of two plaintiffs after they received news of their victory.

San Francisco Chronicle reporters Nanette Asimov and Bob Egelko, in their May 13th story "Judge Blocks Exit Exam for State`s High Schools" interviewed two 18-year-old seniors who failed the exam, Mayra Ibanez and lead plaintiff Liliana Valenzuela.

Ibanez, speaking in Spanish even though she has lived in the US for more than four years, said, "The judge has lifted a big weight off us. He has given me the opportunity to continue studying and not be discriminated against for not having a diploma."

And Valenzuela, also speaking in Spanish, said, "I feel very happy. Now I`ll be able to have my diploma and fulfill my desire to be a nurse."

Someone, perhaps their lawyer Chris Wood, needs to take these young ladies aside for a pointed lecture on life`s realities.

Ibanez may well "continue studying" but where? Seniors who cannot pass an eight-grade level math test and a 10th- grade level reading test have uncertain academic futures.

And as for Valenzuela, whose head is even more in the clouds than her classmate Ibanez, she has next to no chance to become a nurse. Apparently, she does not even have a clue what`s required for professional nursing. Students who barely function at a junior high school level in math are unlikely to pass pre-nursing requirements.

If high school seniors can`t get by the basic and not-very-challenging exit exam, they don`t deserve a diploma.

After all, students first take the test as sophomores, need only 55 percent in math and 60 percent in English and have more than one chance to pass the test. That`s pretty generous.

Nevertheless, it`s true that California has a large percentage of students who are poor, non-English speaking and have special needs. Many are all three.

And some schools are run down and staffed by teachers who have less experience than we`d like.

But that`s not enough of a reason to make a high school diploma a gift.

The problem is that once a meaningless high school diploma reaches the hand of the unqualified graduate, certain truths set in.

That student must now find a job and perhaps even have to pass a test to get that job. I know if I were the personnel manager of any business, I`d give my own test to make sure my new hires could read and do math. Or I would send the applicant to the Lodi Adult School to see if he could pass the G.E.D.

With the exit exam eliminated, employers will be leery of a California diploma. What, if anything, does it mean?

As Superintendent Jack O`Connell said about the decision, "It`s bad news for California students who have worked hard to pass the exit exam, bad news for employers who want meaning restored to our high school diploma and bad news for public schools that have risen to the challenge."

Had the exit exam requirement remained, however, a graduate of the Lodi Unified School District could state that he had finished four years of course work, written and passed his Senior Project and passed the California exit exam.

From that I know that the graduate had perseverance and stuck by the rules, could work independently write a comprehensible essay and could pass a fundamental test covering basic math and reading.

The most troubling thing about Freedman`s decision is that it reinforces the mentality that hard work really isn`t necessary. What`s wrong with putting a nose to the grindstone?

My favorite question of parents who complain about their child`s lack of progress in school is, "Has he opened the book?"

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.