Independent Evaluation of the cahsee: 2009 Evaluation Report



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Independent Evaluation of the CAHSEE: 2009 Evaluation Report
Executive Summary
In 1999, the California legislature established the requirement that, beginning with the Class of 2004, students pass a graduation examination in English-language arts (ELA) and mathematics (SB-2X, written into Chapter 9 of the California Education Code as Sections 60850–60859). In July 2003, after the completion of the 2002–03 CAHSEE testing, the State Board of Education (Board) voted to defer the CAHSEE requirement to the Class of 2006.
The legislation establishing the CAHSEE requirement also called for an independent evaluation of the impact of this requirement and of the quality of the CAHSEE tests. The Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) has served as the independent evaluator of the CAHSEE since January 2000. Over the past 9 years, a wide range of information has been gathered, analyzed, and reported by HumRRO as part of the independent evaluation of the CAHSEE. Copies of our annual and biennial evaluation reports may be found on the California Department of Education (CDE) CAHSEE Independent Evaluation Reports Web page at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/hs/evaluations.asp.
This annual report covers analyses of test results and other evaluation activities conducted through September 2009. Evaluation activities are reported under the following topics, each of which is summarized briefly here:


  • Review of the quality of the assessment (Chapter 2)

  • Analyses of 2008–09 passing rates (Chapter 3)

  • Analyses of students who did not pass (Chapter 4)

  • Analyses of results for students with disabilities (Chapter 5)

  • Analyses of student questionnaire responses (Chapter 6)

  • A new survey of instruction and remediation programs and their effectiveness (Chapters 7 and 8)

  • Examination of other indicators of student achievement and success (Chapter 9)

The final chapter (Chapter 10) of this annual report includes both a summary of key findings from each of these activities and a number of general policy recommendations for further improving the CAHSEE and its use.


Review of CAHSEE Test Quality
This year’s review and analysis of CAHSEE test quality included further study of the alignment of the English-language arts (ELA) test questions to the content standards they were designed to measure, analyses of consistency in scoring the essay questions, and observation of test administration activities. Results from these reviews are summarized briefly here and presented in more detail in Chapter 2 of this report.
Review of the CAHSEE Test Questions
HumRRO conducted another study of the alignment of the CAHSEE ELA test to the ELA content specifications. Both the study design and the study results were very similar to the study conducted in 2008. Overall the alignment was judged to be good, although we identified a few specific areas where the depth of knowledge required by the test questions or the clarity of their coverage of targeted standards might be improved. As noted last year, the test developers and our independent reviewers disagreed somewhat about the specific objectives assessed by some test questions. ETS procedures for item development continue to evolve, but it might be 2 or more years before items developed under updated procedures are ready to use operationally on CAHSEE test forms.
Test Score Accuracy
HumRRO analyzed the consistency with which the CAHSEE essays were scored and found results generally comparable to last year and somewhat improved in comparison to previous years. We also examined the accuracy of pass-fail decisions based on test scores. Accuracy levels were comparable to results from a similar analysis of a 2007 test form and judged to be acceptable.
Test Administration
We observed an administration of the CAHSEE in a school with a substantial number of English learners. No significant problems were encountered. A few suggestions for improving test administrator training are offered in Chapter 2.
Results From 2008–09 CAHSEE Test Administrations
Chapter 3 of this report summarizes analyses of CAHSEE passing rates for this year’s 10th, 11th, and 12th graders and also for students from prior high school classes (Class of 2006 through Class of 2008) who were still trying to pass the CAHSEE. Key findings from these analyses are described briefly here.
Results for This Year’s Seniors — The Class of 2009
The estimated passing rate for the Class of 2009 was 90.6%, only slightly higher than the corresponding cumulative passing rate for the Class of 2008 last year (90.4%). At the same time, cumulative passing rates for grade 12 students with disabilities increased much more significantly, more than 2 percentage points, from 54.5% to 56.6%.
Results for This Year’s Juniors — The Class of 2010
Cumulative passing rates for 11th graders in the Class of 2010 increased just over a percentage point compared to 11th grade passing rates for the Class of 2009 at the end of 11th grade (from 81.7% to 82.9%, as shown in Table 3.15). This was a significant increase and should lead to a continued reduction in the number of seniors who are denied diplomas next year due to the CAHSEE requirement.
Results for the Census Testing of Tenth Graders
About 69.9% of 10th graders completed the CAHSEE requirement this year compared to 69.2% in 2008, reflecting a continued improvement over earlier years (Table 3.16). Tenth grade passing rates increased for all demographic groups except for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The gap in mathematics course levels widened. More 10th grade students had taken (or were taking) geometry or even more advanced mathematics courses. At the same time, the percentage of 10th graders who reported not yet taking Algebra I increased significantly, by about 10%. Students who were taking more advanced mathematics courses had very little trouble with the CAHSEE requirement, while students who had taken fewer courses had significantly lower passing rates on the CAHSEE mathematics test.
Results for Students From Prior High School Classes
Many students from the classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008 who had not passed the CAHSEE continued to test. About 2,000 students from the Class of 2006 continued to try to pass the CAHSEE, more than 2 years after their expected graduation. However, little is known about the more than 30,000 students from the Class of 2006 who did not pass the CAHSEE but were not still trying to pass (Table 3.22). Similarly, roughly 4,000 students in the Class of 2007 were still trying to pass the CAHSEE in the second year after their original graduation date. A significant finding was that more than 40% of students in the Class of 2008 who had not passed the CAHSEE by June of their senior year continued to take the CAHSEE. More than a quarter of those still testing completed the CAHSEE requirement this year. Four-year graduation rate estimates provide an incomplete picture of eventual outcomes for these students.
Further Analyses of Class of 2008 Students Who Did Not Pass
The most negative consequence of the CAHSEE requirement is that some students are denied diplomas. We conducted additional analyses of students who were not able to pass the CAHSEE. First, for students in the Class of 2008 (the most recent class for which senior year exit information was available), we looked at new information on whether students complete their diploma or leave school for other reasons. In another set of analyses, we looked at the extent to which students likely to have difficulty in meeting the CAHSEE requirement could be identified at a much earlier point. These analyses are described in more detail in Chapter 4 of this report. Key findings are summarized briefly here.

Analyses of How and Why Students Left School
As part of the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS), districts are now (or will be) coding reasons why each student leaves their schools. These reasons range from graduation to transfer, to alternate routes such as GED or CHSPE, to varying categories of dropouts. One code, in particular, identifies students who leave without a diploma after meeting all graduation requirements except for the CAHSEE. We looked at the exit codes assigned to students in the Class of 2008 to see whether students with various codes had passed the CAHSEE and, for those who had not, whether they were continuing to try to pass the CAHSEE in 2009, the year after their original senior year. Key findings from these analyses were:


  • CAHSEE and CALPADS exit code information is largely, but not entirely, consistent.

  • Relatively few students (about 1%) were denied diplomas because of the CAHSEE requirement alone.

  • Nearly half of the Class of 2008 students who met all graduation requirements except the CAHSEE continued to try to pass the CAHSEE in 2009.

  • Over half of the students in the Class of 2008 who dropped out, left California public education, or failed to graduate for other reasons had already met the CAHSEE requirement.

  • The percentage of students coded as receiving a regular high school diploma varied across different demographic groups.

Early Identification of Students Who May Have Difficulty With the CAHSEE Requirement
We also examined the relationship between seventh grade Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program California Standards Tests (CST) for ELA and mathematics scores to CAHSEE success for Class of 2008 students. Students who may need additional help to pass the CAHSEE were clearly identified in seventh grade STAR CST assessment results. Nearly all Class of 2008 students (more than 95%) scoring near or above the median class score (325) on seventh grade ELA and mathematics tests met the CAHSEE requirement by the end of their senior year. In comparison, more than a third of the students scoring somewhat below (255–290) the median and over 70% of the students scoring well below (less than 255) the median in the seventh grade had not met the CAHSEE requirement by the end of their senior year. This finding is particularly significant because most CAHSEE remediation efforts have been targeted to students during or after the 12th grade, although many students needing additional help can be identified with reasonable accuracy much earlier.

There were considerable differences across demographic groups in the distribution of seventh grade STAR CST scores, particularly in the percentage of students scoring at the lowest score level in our analyses. Nearly 12% of African-American students and over 9% of Hispanic students in the Class of 2008 had seventh grade STAR CST scores below 255 (well below the median class score of 325) compared to 2–3% of white and Asian students. Nearly 20% of English learners (ELs) and 28% of students with disabilities (SWDs) had scores in this lowest category. Achievement gaps reflected in CAHSEE passing rates were already evident in seventh grade test results. Much earlier intervention will be required to close achievement gaps.


The relationship between STAR CST score levels and CAHSEE passing rates was relatively similar for students in different demographic groups. The one exception was that SWDs at each STAR CST score level had lower CAHSEE passing rates compared to other students. For students just below the median (290–325) only 75% of students with disabilities met the CAHSEE requirement compared to 91% of all students at this STAR CST score level. At the lowest STAR CST score level, only 17% of SWDs subsequently met the CAHSEE requirement compared to 30% of all students at this score level.
Further Analyses of Results for Students with Disabilities
In our 2009 analyses, we took another closer look at SWDs, a group that has had particular difficulty meeting the CAHSEE requirement. We examined additional information on the characteristics of students in this population and on the nature of the services they received. We explored trends in the characteristics of students, testing accommodations, and CAHSEE passing rates from 2006 to 2009.
Participation in General Education Classes
About one-quarter of the students receiving special education services require more intensive assistance. These students participate in regular instruction less than 20% of the time and only about 10% of them pass the CAHSEE during the 10th grade. Those who retest in the 11th grade show only small gains in CAHSEE scores compared to other students. The services received by these students are specified by individualized educational plan (IEP) teams, who have statutory authority for making such judgments. There is no basis for second-guessing the services being provided to these students, although it is important to ask IEP teams to be sure student classifications are appropriate. It is less reasonable to hold students responsible for mastering the skills assessed by the CAHSEE when they are not receiving instruction related to the skills tested by the CAHSEE. The school system should make all possible efforts to provide alternate goals and some way of recognizing achievement of these alternate goals for students in this second group.
Another quarter of the students we analyzed received other combinations of services and showed mixed results on the CAHSEE. More detailed information on the needs of these students and the specific services provided is needed to determine which students have a reasonable chance of meeting the CAHSEE requirements.
Use of Testing Accommodations and Modification
The rate at which students with disabilities received testing accommodations and modifications increased slightly for 10th graders from 2006 to 2009 and increased much more dramatically for 12th graders. The percentage of students receiving oral presentation of the ELA test was about 3% for 10th graders in both years, but rose from 7% for 12th graders in 2006 to 28% in 2009. Similarly, the percentage of 10th grade students using a calculator on the mathematics test rose from 8% to 10% while the percentage of twelfth graders receiving this modification rose from 18% to 43%. One reason for the increases from 2006 was that waivers for students who achieve a passing score with a modification became much more common by 2009. With respect to the differences between 10th and 12th grade test modification rates, it should be noted that 10th grade CAHSEE results are also used for school accountability under the federal No Child Left Behind Act provisions and, except for students who take the math portion of the CAHSEE with a calculator, students taking the tests with a modification are not counted towards the 95% participation requirement.
Score Gains for 11th and 12th Grade students
Test results for 11th and 12th grade students showed a significant difference between 2006 and 2009. Score gains from both 10th grade to 11th and 11th to 12th grade were much higher in 2009, signaling a significant improvement in the effectiveness of remedial programs.
Student Perspectives on the CAHSEE

Students completed a brief questionnaire following each part of the CAHSEE. Analyses of responses for 10th graders, where all students were required to participate, indicated several interesting trends.


Trends in Overall Responses of 10th Graders
There were several changes in responses of 10th graders over the past 5 years in test preparation, perception of test importance and coverage of CAHSEE topics in class, and future plans. Specifically, in 2009 an increased percentage of 10th grade students reported receiving increased help preparing to take the CAHSEE, increased awareness of the importance of the CAHSEE, increased exposure to test topics and questions in their course, and increased intention to stay in school and try to pass again if they did not pass this time.
Some differences in questionnaire responses were observed for different demographic groups. Females were more likely than males to report that the CAHSEE was very important and that to prepare, they did work in addition to coursework; they used sample (released) items, and they used the Student Guides to prepare for the CAHSEE. A higher percentage of females than males expressed confidence in earning a high school diploma and planned to go to a 4-year college, university, or community college upon finishing. Females also were more likely than males to report that test items were similar and of the same difficulty or easier than those seen in class.
African American and Hispanic 10th graders were the ethnic categories most likely to report that the CAHSEE was very important. However, these students, along with American Indian/Alaskan Natives, were the least likely to believe that they would graduate on time and were the most likely to report they would probably not receive a high school diploma.
Among students with other (non-ethnic) risk factors, English learners were most likely to report that CAHSEE was very important. Students with disabilities and English learners were more likely to take special classes to prepare for the tests than were non-English learners. However, English learners and students with disabilities were less likely than non-English learners to expect to graduate with the rest of their class and they were more likely to report they would probably not receive a high school diploma. Students with disabilities and English learners were less likely to report that test items and the difficulty of items were similar to what they experienced in their courses. In addition, the students with disabilities and English learners who reported that the CAHSEE was “not important,” also were the most likely to report they would not earn a high school diploma.
Like students with disabilities and English learners, those who were economically disadvantaged were less likely than those who were not to expect to earn a diploma with the rest of their class. They also were more likely to state that CAHSEE topics were not covered in class and that the items were unfamiliar and more difficult that those they had seen in their course or other tests. Students who were not economically disadvantaged were most likely to expect to attend a 4-year college or university.
Overall, the results of the 2009 student questionnaire were positive. Most students realized that the CAHSEE is important and reported they were learning the appropriate topics in their courses. However, this questionnaire also drew attention to particular groups who may need more attention, particularly students with disabilities, English learners, students who are economically disadvantaged, African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indian/Alaskan Natives. These student groups were less likely to believe they would earn a high school diploma and more likely to report that test items were more difficult and not covered in class.
Impact of the CAHSEE Requirement on Instruction
HumRRO conducted another study of instruction relative to the content standards assessed by the CAHSEE, similar to studies conducted in 2003 (after which the decision to defer the CAHSEE was made) and 2005. The purposes of this 2009 study included assessing continuing changes in curriculum and instruction associated with the CAHSEE requirement and also to identify programs and practices associated with greater student success in meeting CAHSEE requirements. Details of the study and its findings are presented in Chapters 7 and 8 of this report and summarized briefly here.
This year’s survey was wide ranging, collecting information from and about principals, English and mathematics department heads, general curriculum teachers, and teachers of English learners and students with disabilities. We also collected information on the different courses taught by these teachers and the students participating in these courses. Where possible, we compared this year’s responses to responses from the 2003 and 2005 studies. We also analyzed responses from schools serving different demographic mixes of students and schools where students had relatively high or low CAHSEE passing rates. Some of the more salient findings were:
Teacher Experience

Approximately three-fourths of schools operated with all or nearly all credentialed teachers in 2009, an increase from 2005. We found a significant correlation between the percentage of teachers with over 5 years of experience in ELA and student performance at the school level on the ELA CAHSEE. For math we found a correlation between the percentage of teachers having the appropriate teaching credential and the percentage of students at the school passing the CAHSEE math test. It is important to note that these correlations do not establish an unambiguous causal link. It is possible that other factors, such as district affluence, correlate with both greater teacher qualifications and higher CAHSEE passing rates.

Given the relationship between teacher qualification and experience with CAHSEE outcomes, one finding of potential concern was that math department heads reported a decrease in the percentage of teachers at their schools with over 5 years of experience compared to 2005. High school department heads also estimated the experience levels of teachers responsible for primary or supplemental courses and intervention programs. Between 2005 and 2009, the percentage of schools with few experienced teachers who taught primary or supplemental math courses increased slightly. Department heads at schools with lower concentrations of at-risk students were more likely to report that teachers were familiar with the content standards to a very great extent (see Table 7.12). The percentage of math teachers reported to have great or very great experience teaching the standards also decreased overall, for schools with both higher and lower concentrations of different types of at-risk students,

Courses and Course Effectiveness

We received responses from teachers of primary academic courses and from those who taught remedial courses for students needing additional help to pass the CAHSEE. Most classes, particularly primary courses, were offered during regular school hours and lasted a full school year. Remedial courses were more likely than primary courses to be held at nontraditional times and last for a shorter period of time.

When teachers were asked what factors limited course effectiveness, they indicated that low student motivation, a lack of prerequisite knowledge, poor attendance, and behavior problems were the leading limitations to course effectiveness.

The majority of principals reported their schools offered CAHSEE intervention or remediation courses. In most of these cases, the CAHSEE intervention or remediation courses were offered to grade 11 and 12 students and sometimes to grade 10 students. Approximately three-quarters of responding principals reported their district was effective or better at helping at-risk students to improve their CAHSEE scores. About two-thirds of the principals indicated the intervention or remediation courses provided at their schools had at least a moderate impact on preventing students from dropping out of school.

The most common suggestion provided by teachers of SWD and EL students for improving students’ pass rates was to have more instructional materials available. Several EL teachers noted their textbooks needed to be more aligned with the CAHSEE standards and more relevant to high school EL students. Some SWD teachers commented on the need for more interesting materials at students’ reading level.

Curricular Coordination
Approximately one-third of the principals reported their schools had no system developed to coordinate coverage of the California academic content standards associated with the CAHSEE among the elementary, middle, and high schools. However, about one-quarter reported their schools’ systems were fully developed to coordinate between the middle and high schools. Slightly more than one-third of the principals reported their schools’ systems were fully developed to coordinate between special education and general education and between English language development and general education. The majority of ELA and math teachers reported collaborating with other teachers by sharing ideas about teaching strategies, aligning instruction across courses, assessing individual student needs, and planning coverage of CAHSEE standards.
Use of Assessment Data

The majority of principals indicated their schools used a district-based tracking system. Principals in 2005 also reported district-based systems to be the most frequently used method to monitor and track student progress.



Teachers were asked how frequently they used a variety of assessments. ELA teachers reported using most frequently on-demand writing assessments and assessments they created themselves. Math teachers reported using most frequently the assessments they created themselves and assessments created by other teachers. Math teachers also tended to use released test items fairly frequently. Teachers of EL and SWD reported using assessments they created themselves. The teachers of EL students also reported using on-demand writing fairly frequently while the teachers of SWD used released test items fairly frequently. Many teachers were unsure how many of their students had achieved at least basic on last year’s STAR CST. More teachers of SWD and EL students reported that they had no students or only a few students who had achieved at the basic level compared to ELA or math teachers.
Principals, department heads, and teachers were asked about the extent to which CAHSEE results were used to make decisions about changes in their schools’ instruction and assessment as well as overall school improvement. More than two-thirds of the responding sample reported using the CAHSEE to make changes in the schools’ instruction and assessment, and to make overall improvements to the school.
Trends in Other Outcomes
We examined trends in other academic indicators to see if there might be changes that could be associated with the implementation of the CAHSEE requirement, beginning with the Class of 2006. Details of the indicators analyzed and findings from these analyses are reported in Chapter 9 and summarized here.
Graduation and Dropout Rates
One important indicator of the impact of the CAHSEE requirement is whether the proportion of students who leave high school without a diploma changes in some way. Answering this seemingly straightforward question demands a multifaceted answer. California made important improvements in its student-level data systems, facilitating more accurate dropout tallies beginning in 2007. Therefore we report here trends from 2007 to 2008; the reader is referred to previous reports in this evaluation series for earlier trends. We found that official dropout rate calculations indicated that both single-year and 4-year dropout rates decreased between 2007 and 2008, overall and for all ethnic categories. However, both dropout metrics revealed that African American students dropped out at a substantially higher rate than every other group, including disadvantaged groups such as EL and SWDs.
As a second look at students leaving high school prematurely, we investigated grade-to-grade enrollment trends. While this measure does not directly account for mobility in and out of the state, substantial changes in enrollment declines (drop-off rates) can be interpreted as an indirect indicator of dropout rates. Enrollment patterns indicated that the drop-off rates of sophomores increased in Fall 2009 while the drop-off rate of juniors and seniors declined. Drop-off rates for juniors and seniors remained substantially lower than the corresponding rates before the CAHSEE requirement was implemented.

High school graduation rates can also be measured in multiple ways. We examined two measures: the number of graduates as a percentage of Grade 9 enrollment 4 years earlier, and the graduation rate as measured by ESEA requirements. The rate as calculated under the ESEA requirements is based upon the number of graduates in a given year and the number of dropouts in the relevant Grade 9 through Grade 12 years. We found that the graduation rate as a percentage of ninth graders increased slightly in 2007 and 2008 while the ESEA rate merely slowed its decline. Just over two-thirds (68.5%) of students who entered ninth grade in the fall of 2004 graduated 4 years later.



Review of disaggregated ninth-grade-to-graduation rates revealed that only the African American graduation rate declined in 2008 from its 2007 level, widening the gap with other racial/ethnic groups. Graduation rates varied widely, from 54.6% among African American students to 92% for Asian students.
College Preparation
Participation in the SAT college entrance examination decreased slightly in the 2007–08 school year. Mean SAT scores increased, but the percentage of students earning a combined score of 1500 or better declined slightly. Both participation and success on the ACT—which had only about a fifth of the participation among California students that the SAT program did —increased.
One-third of Class of 2008 graduates completed the A–G courses required by the University of California and California State University systems. Rates varied widely among racial/ethnic groups. Participation in Advanced Placement exams increased in 2008, but measures of success on the AP yielded mixed trends.
Recommendations
Many students from the classes of 2006 and 2007 who did not meet the CAHSEE requirement by the end of their senior year continued on for a fifth and, in some cases, a sixth year to master the required skills, meet the CAHSEE requirement, and receive a diploma. While many have not yet been successful, a significant number were. This leads to our first recommendation:
Recommendation 1: California should seek ways to encourage students who do not pass in 4 years to continue their studies for 1 or more additional years. The paths of students who do continue should be studied to identify programs that help them succeed.
Another key finding from this year’s analyses is that a high proportion of the students who score low on seventh grade assessments will need additional help to meet the CAHSEE requirement. This leads to our second recommendation:
Recommendation 2: New interventions should be targeted at earlier grades, using test scores to identify students who have fallen behind their classmates and are at risk of failing to meet the CAHSEE requirement.
California’s current fiscal crisis raises concerns about continued funding for CAHSEE remediation efforts at any level. Increased flexibility in the use of funds previously targeted for remediation may reduce focus on helping students master the skills required to pass the CAHSEE. It may be useful for the Department to monitor district remediation efforts to ensure that overall efforts are not diminished as well as to identify uses of remediation funds that are particularly effective in helping students pass the CAHSEE, particularly those students who fall behind their classmates at earlier grades.
An important finding from our instruction study was the significant relationship of teacher quality to student outcomes for both ELA and mathematics. We found that years of teacher experience was related to student performance on the CAHSEE ELA and math teaching credentials were related to higher CAHSEE math passing rates. This leads to our third recommendation:
Recommendation 3: In these tight financial times, districts may need particular help and direction to attract and retain teachers who are experienced and well qualified in the subjects that they teach. District and school efforts to increase coordination across grade levels and between general and special instructional programs should be encouraged and supported.
Students with disabilities continue to have greater difficulties meeting the CAHSEE requirement than their classmates. Our fourth recommendation is:
Recommendation 4: Districts, schools, and IEP teams should make all possible efforts to provide access to the general curriculum to students with disabilities so that these students can obtain the skills needed to pass the CAHSEE.
Findings from our analyses continue to show a close relationship between participation in the general curriculum and success in meeting the CAHSEE requirement. State efforts are currently focused on finding different ways for students with disabilities to demonstrate what they know and can do, but it is also very important to continue efforts to improve the effectiveness of programs to help them develop these skills in the first place. The current suspension of the CAHSEE requirement for students with disabilities could lead to reduced efforts to help and encourage students with disabilities to master these critical skills.
Our analysis reinforces the importance of recognizing the diverse needs of students with disabilities and points out how unlikely it is that one solution will be effective for all students. It is important to evaluate the progress of all students, even those not yet able to pass the CAHSEE. The California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) provides measures of progress for students not able to take the regular assessments; CAPA results should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs to help these students as well.

English learners also have more difficulty meeting the CAHSEE requirement than their classmates. Our fifth recommendation is:


Recommendation 5: Curricular goals, possibly including a fifth year of high school, should be studied for English learners who enter U.S. schools during high school. California schools should also find further ways to help English learners who enter U.S. schools prior to high school but continue to have difficulty learning English.
The population of English learners is also quite diverse, with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and different instructional needs. Many students who do not begin to learn English until high school simply need an additional year or two to master English as well as the skills assessed by the CAHSEE. Other English learners, however, have been in U.S. schools for a longer period and have still not achieved English proficiency. Additional study is needed to identify effective strategies for helping this latter group of English learners.
Some recent research suggests the importance of psychological as well as academic preparation for the CAHSEE. Students must believe that, with appropriate effort, they can master the required skills and pass the CAHSEE. It is important to eliminate any possible factors, such as “stereotype threat,” identified by some researchers as detrimentally affecting student success. In addition to ensuring “Yes, we can” beliefs, schools need to help some students overcome test anxieties and to cope with initial failures to pass the requirement. This leads to our sixth recommendation:
Recommendation 6: The state and districts need to support additional study of non-academic factors that may limit some student’s ability to meet the CAHSEE requirement. Procedures that are effective in overcoming psychological barriers should be identified and disseminated.
Low-income and minority students also have greater difficulty than their classmates in passing the CAHSEE. In addition, dropout rates are higher for these categories of students, leading to a greater proportion not receiving a high school diploma. Failure to receive a diploma has significant societal costs as well as costs to the individual students. Our seventh recommendation is:
Recommendation 7: California schools and districts should find ways to increase graduation rates for low-income and minority students.
Reducing the achievement gap has been a high priority for the Department under Superintendent O’Connell. It will take time, however, before efforts at earlier grades lead to reduced gaps for students entering high school. Again, with the fiscal crisis there is a concern that efforts to reduce achievement gaps and attain equity in graduation rates may be diluted.
Finally, it has been 10 years since the content framework for the CAHSEE was adopted. The State Board of Education indicated its intention to increase the rigor of the requirement over time. Yet 5 years ago, the rigor of the mathematics test was actually decreased slightly when the exam was revised and restarted in 2004 for the Class of 2006. At its July 2008 meeting, the Board adopted a requirement for all students to take Algebra I in the 8th grade. The Board may therefore wish to consider whether it should extend coverage of Algebra I in the CAHSEE and whether it should require mathematics instruction beyond Algebra I during high school. Now that several years of CAHSEE data are available, it is possible to examine the extent to which success on both the ELA and mathematics portions of the CAHSEE indicates preparation for life after high school. More generally, our final recommendation for this year is:
Recommendation 8: The State Board of Education should initiate a new review of the CAHSEE content requirements. The Board should allow at least 3 years for implementation of changes to the CAHSEE test specifications, including development and field testing of new questions and test forms based on the revised specifications.
The availability of longitudinal data, including data on students moving from high school to community or other colleges, will enable us to study the relationship between skills measured by the CAHSEE and subsequent indicators of success. Preparation to take credit-bearing college courses or succeed in rigorous technical training is essential, both for individual student success and also for maintaining the global competitiveness of our workforce.


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