Purpose and Content
The primary purpose of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) is to significantly improve pupil achievement in public high schools and to ensure that pupils who graduate from public high schools can demonstrate grade level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics. The CAHSEE helps identify students who are not developing skills that are essential for life after high school and encourages districts to give these students the attention and resources needed to help them achieve these skills during their high school years. All California public school students except eligible students with disabilities must satisfy the CAHSEE requirement, as well as all other state and local requirements, in order to receive a high school diploma. The CAHSEE requirement can be satisfied by passing the examination, or for eligible students with disabilities, meeting the exemption requirement pursuant to California Education Code (EC) Section 60852.3, or receiving a local waiver pursuant to EC Section 60851(c).
The CAHSEE has two parts: English-language arts (ELA) and mathematics. The ELA part addresses state content standards through grade ten. In reading, this includes vocabulary, decoding, comprehension, and analysis of information and literary texts. In writing, this covers writing strategies, applications, and the conventions of English (e.g. grammar, spelling, and punctuation). The mathematics part of the CAHSEE addresses state standards in grades six and seven and Algebra I. The exam includes statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement and geometry, mathematical reasoning, and algebra. Students are also asked to demonstrate a strong foundation in computation and arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions, and percents.
After determining that local proficiency standards established pursuant to Education Code Section 51215 (repealed January 1, 2000) were generally set below a high school level and were not consistent with the state's content standards, the Legislature indicated its intent to set higher standards for high school graduation. In proposing the CAHSEE, the Legislature's primary goal was to "...significantly improve pupil achievement in high school and to ensure that pupils who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics..." (Senate Bill 2, Section 1[b]). Education Code Section 60850 (Chapter 1, statutes of 1999-2000, S.B.2, O'Connell) authorized the CAHSEE to be developed in accordance with State Board of Education (SBE)-adopted content standards in language arts and mathematics. The CAHSEE was developed based on recommendations of the High School Exit Examination Standards Panel, whose members were appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and approved by the SBE.
State law requires that the CAHSEE be administered only on the dates designated by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Students must retake the examination until the ELA and mathematics parts are passed; however, students may retake only those parts not previously passed. All students are required to take the CAHSEE for the first time in grade ten. Students who do not pass one or both parts of the CAHSEE in grade ten may take the parts not passed up to two times per school year in grade eleven and up to five times per school year in grade twelve. Adult students may take the parts not passed up to three times per school year.
The CAHSEE was offered for the first time in spring 2001 (March
and May) to volunteer ninth graders (class of 2004). In October
2001, Assembly Bill 1609 (Calderon) removed the option for ninth
graders to take the CAHSEE beginning with the 2002 administration.
The CAHSEE was next administered in spring 2002 to all tenth graders
who had not passed it during the spring 2001 administration. It
has since been administered several times to the remaining students
in the class of 2004 who have not yet passed one or both parts
(i.e., ELA and mathematics). The class of 2005 took the CAHSEE
for the first time in spring 2003. In July 2003, the SBE took
action to move the passage of the CAHSEE as a diploma requirement
to the Class of 2006. The Class of 2006 took the CAHSEE for the
first time as tenth graders in February 2004.
In addition to the use of the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement, the spring CAHSEE administration will continue to be used in calculating the Academic Performance Index for state accountability purposes and Adequate Yearly Progress to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements.
Education Code Section 60855 required the California Department of Education (CDE) to contract for an independent evaluation of the CAHSEE beginning in January 2000. Each evaluation report must include the following: (1) an analysis of pupil performance, broken down by grade level, gender, race or ethnicity, and portion of the exam, including any trends that become apparent over time, (2) an analysis of the exam's effects, if any, on college attendance, pupil retention, graduation, and dropout rates, including an analysis of these effects on the subgroups described in (1) above, and (3) an analysis of whether the exam is likely to have, or has, differential effects, whether beneficial or detrimental, on the subgroups described in (1) above. The evaluation reports must include recommendations to improve the quality, fairness, validity, and reliability of the CAHSEE. The first report of the independent evaluation was completed and presented to the CDE, SBE, Legislature, Governor, and other control agencies on July 1, 2000. Subsequent evaluation reports are due to these same parties by February 1 of every even-numbered year. These reports are posted on the Independent Evaluation Web page.