Exit exam results show drop in pass rate

Despite steady statewide increases in the percentage of high school students passing the California High School Exit Exam over the past six years, the percentage of students in the Berkeley Unified School District who passed the exam in the 10th grade decreased this year.

According to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education, accompanying the decrease in the percentage of passing students in the district is a widening of the purported achievement gap — which the district has been working for years to combat — between minority and white students.

Bill Huyett, the district’s superintendent since 2008, said a decrease in the percentage of students who pass in a given year could simply be attributed to the makeup of a given class.

“You have to examine the class and ask what have they done in the past,” Huyett said. “When you’re comparing classes, it’s somewhat comparing apples and oranges without looking at the other factors.”

Huyett added that the data do show, against the district’s hopes, that the achievement gap between black, Latino and white students in the district has grown.

The Berkeley City Council and the district’s Board of Education adopted a plan in June 2008 for a program entitled the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth. The program aims to close the achievement gap in Berkeley’s public schools by the year 2020.

However, as evidenced in the data from the Department of Education, the achievement gap is still apparent and growing, according to the department’s Education Research and Evaluation Consultant Linda Hooper.

Huyett said that although the district has been monitoring progress through the 2020 Vision plan, the plan’s effects have not quite reached the high school level.

“The 2020 Vision at first focused a lot on elementary school and then on middle school,” he said. “In high school, we haven’t had that many reforms.”

Hooper said that the district’s decrease in passing students, when compared to the statewide increase, is “kind of strange.” She added that the state — in the process of combating budget cuts — has allowed for an increase in flexibility regarding the use of funding that was previously allocated for exit exam-specific preparation courses.

According to Hooper, state schools receive a specific dollar amount allocation based on the number of 11th and 12th grade students who do not pass the high school exit exam each year — over $500 per 12th grade student and about $100 per 11th grade student — to put toward intensive tutorial classes, zero periods, after-school enrichment or in-school classes for exam preparation.

“Some districts are still spending that money for intensive instruction, in the way it was intended,” she said. “But because of the budgetary issue, they’ve been given flexibility in how they’re spending that money … that might explain that drop.”

Huyett said the district has only redirected a small part of its exit exam funding for other uses, while most is still put toward exam preparation.

“The intervention is very strong after we find that they didn’t pass it,” he said. “We would like that they pass it on the first go-around.”