A judge in Oakland struck down California's controversial high school exit exam Monday, issuing a tentative ruling suggesting the test is unfair to some students who are shortchanged by substandard schools.
If finalized, the unexpected ruling would block the state from carrying out its plan to deny diplomas for the first time to tens of thousands of seniors who have been unable to pass the exit exam.
Judge Robert Freedman of Alameda County Superior Court said he based his ruling on the concept of "equal protection" and is expected to make a final ruling at a 2 p.m. hearing today.
His ruling comes just weeks before graduation ceremonies begin at 1,129 California high schools and just days after state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell announced that 46,768 seniors -- 10.7 percent of the class of 2006 -- had not yet passed the exit exam. Of those students, 61 percent are poor, and 44 percent are English learners.
Many of them, such as Iris Padilla, a senior at Richmond High in the West Contra Costa Unified School district, have been watching their graduating classmates with envy. Earlier Monday, before the ruling, she was in tears when asked by a reporter whether she planned to attend her prom on May 19.
"How am I going to enjoy myself and celebrate graduation if I'm not going to get a diploma?" asked Iris, who is passing all classes with the help of Spanish-speaking teachers and classmates.
But everything changed a few hours later when news of the tentative ruling hit the student grapevine.
"Wow! How? This is so good!" Iris laughed and laughed and laughed some more.
O'Connell, who wrote the exit exam legislation in 1999 when he was a state senator and has called it a cornerstone of his school reform efforts, wasn't laughing.
"Recognizing that today's ruling is not final, I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that at the end of the legal day we maintain the integrity of the high school exit exam," O'Connell said. He noted that independent research has shown that the exit exam has actually led more students to buckle down to try to pass the test, and that struggling students have more access to tutoring than in the past.
California's high school exit exam also carries strong support among voters and the business community -- future employers of today's high school students -- who share O'Connell's view that a diploma should indicate a basic level of academic skill.
The exit exam tests 7th- to 10th-grade English, math and algebra skills. In all, 389,600 seniors have passed the test, although it is not clear how many have completed all their other graduation requirements.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was "disappointed" at the tentative ruling and said that "delaying the exam's implementation does a disservice to our children by depriving us of the best tool we have to make sure schools are performing as they should be." . . . .
Poor Gubernator! I'll give you a more reliable way, Governor. Get in one of your Hummers and drive around the neighborhoods of any of your cities. Where you find poor people, you find failing schools--where you find middle class and rich people, you find succeeding schools.
You don't need a test that is used deprive the poor ones of a future in order to know that.