What content is covered in the CAHSEE?

The test is divided into two sections: math and English/language arts. The math portion covers academic content standards for grades 6 and 7 and algebra I, including statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement, algebra and functions, math reasoning, and geometry. The English/language arts portion includes content standards through grade 10, including vocabulary, reading, writing strategies and conventions. In addition to answering multiple-choice questions, students write an essay on a specific topic. It is a pass/fail test that is not timed.

Who takes the test?

Students take the CAHSEE for the first time in the 10th grade. Students must pass both parts of the exam. Once they pass one portion, they have met that requirement; students only need to retake the portion that they did not pass. Students have five additional opportunities to retake the test.

When did the test become a graduation requirement?

The class of 2006 was the first graduating class that had to pass the CAHSEE in order to receive a high school diploma. These students had their first opportunity to take the CAHSEE in the spring of 2004. Nearly 91% of the class of 2006 passed both portions of the CAHSEE.

If it is called an “exit exam,” why do students take it in the 10th grade?

The goal of the test is to make sure that students have the basic skills they will need to do well in the workplace. Starting the test in 10th grade provides enough time to help those students who aren’t able to pass so they can get the help they need before it is too late.

What happens when students don’t pass the test?

Allowing students to take the test in the 10th grade provides many opportunities to pass. Schools are required to give extra help to students who fail the exam by offering tutoring, special courses, summer school or other assistance. Students may take the test up to six times until they pass.

If students repeatedly fail the test, there are still other options available. They can take the General Education Development Test (GED), which is a high school equivalency exam for adults, or they can attend adult school classes to earn a diploma. Students who are at least 16 years old (or who have completed or are about to complete 10th grade) can take the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), which is similar in format to the CAHSEE. Students who pass the CHSPE can receive a certificate equivalent to a diploma, and passing the test allows them, with parental permission, to leave high school early. Students who are 18 or older, regardless of whether or not they have a high school diploma, can attend a community college in California.

When is the CAHSEE administered?

The California Department of Education provides multiple opportunities for test administration. School districts have some flexibility in setting test administration dates, offering testing dates in the fall, winter, and spring/early summer. You can see the testing schedule on the California Department of Education’s Web site.

Why has California said algebra is important for all students?

Algebra is an important skill for helping students to learn math reasoning — an important skill needed when students enter the workforce, whatever profession they may choose. Algebra used to be an important subject only for students on their way to college, but in today’s economy, all workers need higher levels of mathematical and technological skills. One example is that many trades such as electricians and auto mechanics now require algebra as an entrance requirement for vocational programs.


How will CAHSEE improve school accountability?

Reports of how many students pass the test will be an important focal point for school improvement. All schools in California are ranked according to an Academic Performance Index (API), which shows if schools are making real progress each year. A school’s CAHSEE results will be included among the factors that produce a school’s API. Schools that don’t meet their API growth targets are subject to state sanctions. The CAHSEE results are also used to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as part of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements.

What allowances are made for students with special learning needs?

Special versions of the test are available to help students who have special learning challenges. For example, the test can be administered in braille, audio CD, and large-print format, and when necessary schools will provide a scribe. Students with physical disabilities will be entitled to the same accommodations they have during classroom instruction. State law allows local district school boards to make determinations about these special circumstances.

What allowances are made for students whose first language is not English?

Students must pass the exam in English in order to graduate. However, test variations for English learners have been added to the CAHSEE. During their first 24 months in a California school, English learners receive six months of instruction in reading, writing, and comprehension in English. During this time, these students are still required to take the CAHSEE.

Can I see the test?

Sample questions for the CAHSEE are available online. Look for “released test questions” on the California Department of Education’s Web site.

Do other states require these tests?

High school exit tests are currently required or are being developed in 26 states.

Where can I find the law that created CAHSEE?

The requirements for the exam can be found in Section 60850 of the California Education Code. The law was passed in 1999 by the California State Legislature. Senate Bill 2 (O’Connell) authorized the California High School Exit Exam to ensure that those graduating from high school possess the skills necessary to function as responsible adults.

Thanks to the California Business for Education Excellence Foundation for providing information for this article. 

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