High Stakes Word Problems
Beginning this year, all high school seniors must pass state exit exam to receive a diploma.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
<>Anyone who has thought today’s generation of California teenagers are intellectually challenged—or just plain dumb—may want to rethink that assumption. More than 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors have already passed at least one of the two sections of the California High School Exit Exam, also known as the CAHSEE (pronounced kay-see.)>
Starting this year, all seniors (with the exception of special education students) must pass both sections of the test to receive a diploma.
That means they must be able to successfully come up with answers to questions like these, the likes of which appear in the math portion of the test:
1) Sixty miles per hour is the same rate as which of the following? a) 1 mile per minute, b) 1 mile per second, c) 6 miles per minute, or d) 350 miles per second.
Still with us? That was an easy one. Here’s a moderately difficult question:
2) Ricardo runs 10 miles each Saturday. If he doubles his usual speed, he can run the 10 miles in 1 hour less than his usual time. What is his usual speed: a) 2 miles per hour, b) 3 miles per hour, c) 4 miles per hour, or d) 5 miles per hour.
Give up yet? Try this easy algebra equation:
3) Solve for x in the equation: 2x-3=7. Does x equal: a) –5, b) –2, c) 2 or d) 5.
These are just the straight math problems.
By the time the math test moved on to sloping lines on graphs, it started presenting a challenge to Itamar Velasquez. The sophomore at Seaside High School took the CAHSEE for the first time last week and describes it as a breeze, except for the problems that asked about slopes.
“That was, like, a long time ago that we covered slopes,” says Velasquez, 15. “But other than that, I think I did pretty well.”
Velasquez isn’t too worried. After all, if she fails, she still has next year and all of her senior year to pass the exam.
But not everyone has that kind of time.
As of last week, about 35 Seaside High School seniors, out of a class of about 250, hadn’t yet passed the exam. They had another chance, beginning Feb. 7, and will get two more opportunities, one in March and one in May. If the seniors still don’t pass—students won’t learn their scores until 10 weeks after taking the exam—they won’t graduate.
Several Seaside students interviewed say two types of seniors were having trouble with the tests: slackers and students who had recently learned English as a second language.
“I think that them making you pass the test to graduate is good,” Velasquez says. “Some students don’t pay attention in class, and it’s not fair if they graduate with everyone else.”
Daniel Oakley, a junior, says he already passed both sections of the CAHSEE. “Basically, the majority of the people who aren’t passing the test are people who don’t speak English very well,” Oakley says.
Unlike the math portion, which is all multiple choice, the English portion of the test requires students to read paragraphs and then answer questions about them. It also asks them to write an essay on a topic—describing a natural born leader is the one Oakley had to write about—that they hadn’t had a chance to research beforehand.
While Seaside High has a little ways to go before all their seniors can graduate, at least one high school in Monterey County is almost there.
Only one non-special education senior out of a class of 135 students hadn’t passed the CAHSEE at Pacific Grove High School, says Principal Stan Dodd.
“We’re pretty happy with that,” Dodd says. “But we won’t be really happy until 100 percent of students have crossed that hurdle.”
Meanwhile, at Salinas High School, 36 seniors had to retake the test last week.
“We feel pretty confident that a lot of them passed yesterday,” an Assistant Principal Darin Hershberger said on Feb. 10, a day after testing. “There may be a few that may have to return next year to make it, but I think all will eventually get their diplomas.”
Currently, a lawsuit is pending against the state Department of Education, arguing that because all high schools don’t have the same level of resources for students, therefore all students can’t be held to the same standards. As it stands, Latino and African-American students in Monterey County—mirroring state trends—are having a much harder time passing the CAHSEE than white and Asian-American students.
Sal Villaseñor of the Association of the California School Administrators is conducting a survey of different high schools to determine if they have enough resources to help students catch up on basic skills they need to know for the test.
Villaseñor says that regardless of the survey’s results, the CAHSEE’s graduation requirement clause shouldn’t be postponed, as it has been once already. “If we continue to change the date of when this rule kicks in,” Villaseñor says, “then kids will start to wonder if we’re really telling them the truth.”
For the math questions above, the answers are: 1) a, 2) d, and 3) d.