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A Guide to California's Standardized Tests for High School Students

High school students in California are required to take a variety of tests, each serving a different purpose. Find out what they are and what the results mean.

By GreatSchools Staff

Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR)

Each spring California students in grades 9 through 11 take a series of tests through the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, (STAR). The California Standards Tests (CSTs) show how well California students are mastering the grade-level content standards established by the state Board of Education. The tests cover English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. For the math and science portions, students take tests for the specific course in which they are enrolled (for example, physics, geometry or algebra). Ninth grade students who are not yet taking algebra take the General Mathematics Standards Test.

STAR tests are important because the scores are the basis for each school's Academic Performance Index (API) rank. The state gives each school an API rank between 1 and 10, from under performing to high performing. The results may lead to sanctions or recognition through the California Distinguished Schools Program. STAR tests are not used to determine promotion or retention for individual students from one grade to the next.

California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE)

The California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) is a test used to determine whether students have mastered key skills before graduating from high school. Beginning with the class of 2006, California students must pass the CAHSEE in order to receive their high school diploma. The exam was offered for the first time in the spring of 2001 on a voluntary basis to ninth graders. Those who passed the test are not required to take it again. Those who did not pass will have many opportunities to retake the exam.

This pass/fail test, which is not timed, is divided into two sections: math and English/language arts. Students must pass both sections; once students have passed one section, they do not have to take that part again. According to California law, schools must provide assistance in the form of tutoring, additional courses or summer school for students who are not showing progress toward passing the test.

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 18 or older, regardless of whether or not they have a high school diploma, can attend a community college in California.

On January 31, 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law legislation that will allow students with IEPs (Individual Education Programs) to be exempt from the requirement of passing the CAHSEE. This will be a one-year exemption only and will apply to special education students on track to graduate in June 2006. For more information click here.

Additional Resources

Some of the links below are PDF files, which require Adobe Acrobat Reader, which you can download for free if you click here.

For more about the High School Exit Exam, download this helpful overview from EdSource:
In English
In Spanish

To learn more about the STAR program, download this STAR guide from EdSource:
In English
In Spanish

Comments from readers

"My son is in 9th grade and this year he took the science portion of the test. He was in ag science and his teacher didn't teach anything that was on the test. In fact, she just sat in the class and talked to favorite students and made the kids read chapters and take cornell notes.Also, he had to go to clean up the farm to get extra points to help his grade. We really need to make teachers accountable and exp principals should look at the teaching skills of particular teachers. "
"Is anyone fighting the high stakes nature of these exams? What about students with severe disabilities, with ESL, or who are vocational students? Is there a group that is questioning this 'one size fits all' education policy? "