SACRAMENTO – The state Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to make the high school exit exam mandatory for students with disabilities, rejecting alternatives and risking further litigation from critics who argue that the test does not measure those students’ skills. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell recommended that the board reject other options such as breaking up the test into multiple parts or allowing students to present a portfolio of their work instead of passing the exam. The test became a requirement to earn a high school diploma in California starting with the class of 2006, but blind, deaf and other disabled children classified as special education students won a two-year reprieve after a lawsuit settlement and legislative action. The test becomes mandatory for them in 2008. As part of the legal settlement, the Legislature voted last year to require the state Department of Education to come up with alternatives for disabled students who have met all other graduation requirements but cannot pass the test. “All we’re going to do is file another lawsuit and continue this issue year after year,” she said. “What we really need to do is provide just and fair and constitutionally protected options to a class of federally protected students.” The Senate Appropriations Committee is due to take up Romero’s bill later this month. The proposal adopted Thursday also will require legislative approval, and could be modified by lawmakers.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The board on Wednesday adopted O’Connell’s proposal to leave the test requirement in place and standardize the process for students to receive special modifications while taking it, such as having questions read aloud to them or using a calculator for some portions. Their decision upset advocates for the disabled, who say that a shortage of special education teachers leaves many students unprepared to pass the controversial exam. “We were hopeful that they would take their responsibility seriously, but it looks like in the end the Board of Education decided to abandon special ed students and to leave them at the mercy of a school system that’s not doing a good job teaching them,” said Roger Heller, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates, which sued the state on behalf of special education students in 2001. In a presentation to the board in February, the group asked the state to examine whether the test is a valid measure for special education students. It also recommended adopting a juried portfolio, allowing students to demonstrate their work to a jury of evaluators instead of taking the test. Such a proposal is included in legislation by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, that would allow students to show that they can meet the same standards measured by the California High School Exit Exam. Romero called Thursday’s vote a “duck and run” decision that avoids the issues the board was supposed to address.
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