By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Christina Williams, a special day class teacher and member of the San Juan Teachers Association, says decision on CAHSEE was a "step in the right direction."
There was one silver lining in this year's draconian budget: Special education students will no longer have to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) in order to receive a diploma if they pass all their classes and have enough credits to graduate.
The budget signed by the governor last July suspended the exit exam graduation requirement for special education students in the class of 2010 and perhaps after that. It was part of a compromise move after Democrats proposed doing away with the CAHSEE requirements during budget negotiations.
"We're grateful this happened for these students," says KC Walsh, chair of CTA's Special Education Committee, who teaches eighth-graders with learning disabilities in San Jose. "It has been very hard for them. They want to be like everyone else and pass that test. Too much emphasis on CAHSEE has been to their detriment."
"We're hoping it will be a long-term, permanent solution," adds Walsh, a member of the Oak Grove Education Association.
"It's kind of a temporary reprieve until they come up with a solution," says Ed Amundson, a high school special education teacher in Sacramento and chair of NEA's National Special EducationProject. "Who knows what's going to happen?"
The governor signed Assembly Bill 2040 by Fabian Nuñez, former speaker of the Assembly, over a year ago. It paves the way for development of "alternative testing" of students with learning disabilities based upon the recommendation of a panel of "experts" selected by the State Board of Education. Until a form of alternative testing is approved, special education students are off the hook. However, with no firm deadline, it's unknown how long the "shelf life" of the exemption will last, says Amundson. And the exemption will not apply retroactively to the tens of thousands of students denied diplomas in 2008 and 2009. Special education students were issued "certificates of completion" or alternative diplomas in a few communities, including Fresno and Cupertino. According to law, students were also given the option of additional time in high school.
Some of Amundson's students returned for a fifth year of high school and passed the CAHSEE. Others came back and did not pass.
Last year during budget negotiations, CTA argued that if the state was going to keep cutting funds, students couldn't be expected to meet the state's requirements.
Some special education students, says Amundson, will likely never pass the CAHSEE no matter how hard they try. And because they were forced to take so many CAHSEE intervention classes, they were unable to enroll in vocational classes to make them employable.
"For the next two years, I won't focus so much on the CAHSEE," he says. "Now my students will be able to get the vocational classes that they need but weren't able to get in the past. And meanwhile, Sacramento has time to come up with some real solutions."
"I think the decision was definitely a step in the right direction," says Christina Williams, a special day class teacher and member of the San Juan Teachers Association. "We need to recognize these students for their attendance, work and participation in their classes and earning good grades despite their learning disabilities. Those things should be sufficient measures for their success and to ensure that they graduate."