LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – LaCristen Johnson attended all of her classes, got good grades in school and obtained more than the required credits to graduate from Compton High School last month, but she did not because she failed the math portion of the California State Exit Examination (CAHSEE) by one point.
Countywide, according to the Children’s Planning Council, 75 percent of the 3,000 students in juvenile hall or probation camps did not pass the exit exam in 2004. Disproportionately, it added, 20 percent of the youth in probation camps require special education programs, twice more than that of the general school special education population.
Statewide, according to a University of California at Los Angeles study, conducted by Professor John Rogers, graduation rates throughout California dropped significantly in 2006, the first year the CAHSEE was mandated.
According to a recent Making Rights Real Public Advocates press release, drops have also affected the districts of : San Juan (28 percent); Santa Ana (19 percent); Fresno (16 percent); Sacramento City (16 percent); San Diego (16 percent); Oakland (14 percent); and LAUSD (11 percent).
The CAHSEE consists of English-language arts and mathematics sections and was established by the California Department of Education to help improve the performance of California students in reading, math and writing.
Some education advocates believe that the assessment as meted out is racially biased, while others charge the root problem is too many youth, mainly students of color and low income students, are not receiving a quality education and given a fair chance to pass this test or do well in school.
Some parents begged that their children be allowed to attend graduation ceremonies with their peers but were denied. Reverend Alfreddie Johnson, a Lynwood City Councilman, asserted that the rules governing the CAHSEE were arbitrary, the regulations uncoordinated, and said that the denials were another attempt to deaden the spirit of our people in terms of education.
“I feel this is just another sign of the incompetence and the failure of the public school system. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the people didn’t pass the exit exam literally. One school, Dominquez, had 354 students and only 58 passed. Another, Centennial, had around 176 seniors and only 79 passed,” stated Councilman Johnson.
Sunny Yu, Communications Director for the Compton Unified School District, countered that only 15 students did not graduate solely because they failed the CAHSEE. The more than 300 students referenced represent a district-wide number that failed because they either lacked the required credits and/or failed the exam, she said.
Selessia Sanders, Ms. Johnson’s mother, said that LaCristen accepted the need to further test and receive her diploma later, but was traumatized after missing her rites of passage experience with her fellow classmates, although the District is scheduled to have a graduation for successful re-testers in August.
“She said she is giving up and feels like the second graduation is not sufficient. She stayed at home, but I had to take her away from home because she could not stand to see kids in their caps and gowns,” Ms. Sanders stated. She is planning to sue the Compton School District and high school for failing to properly educate her child, she said.
“They will lose kids to the streets. Some will lose faith and not want to come back to the school. Kids look to teachers and counselors to be their support; they fight so hard to stay in school and maintain passing grades, and then this happens,” she added.
Mike Chavez, Communications Director with Californians for Justice, said that cramming prep courses to help them pass the exam overshadows the real problem–their schools do not have as many qualified and experienced teachers as other schools. The inequality based on race and education within California’s public schools must be addressed, he said. In order to fix the problem, he advocates fully funding schools and ensure quality, experienced teachers for every classroom.
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors passed a plan last week which directs County agencies to develop a comprehensive education reform plan for youth in juvenile justice, including exploring the use of charter schools and other education models.
In 2006, some students and their parents filed a lawsuit against the Department of Education and Superintendent Jack O’Connell, citing discrimination. A superior court judge halted the exams; however, the decision was over-ruled on appeal.
Councilman Johnson encourages parents to get more involved and pay more attention to the public school system, which he insists is creating a permanent underclass of laborers to feed into the prison and cheap labor systems. “It’s an atrocity. We’ve actually been taken over by corporate globalism and the only way that American corporations can compete is to create a deliberate work force to vie with China, Mexico and India. We’re trying to home grow our cheap labor,” he said.
For Reverend Fred Shaw, Executive Board Member of the Pastors of Compton, believes a major change comes with changing the mindset of the youth, parents and school system.
“I think the problem is that we are not preparing our children properly to pass the exit exam. If you have a child that’s been in the system for 13 years and now cannot pass, that’s an indictment on the school system,” he said.
Rev. Shaw said that community and families must set standards and be careful that children do not become the victims of a hidden bigotry encased in the guise of low expectations.
“If White kids and Hispanic and all other kids are taking the tests, our children should not be allowed to function at a lower standard than anybody else. That’s saying we are not good enough … This educational experience is going to be the least thing that traumatizes them through life … but we’re not quitters. We have to demand a standard of excellence and make our children wiser and stronger,” he said.