Most OUSD exit exam failures are English learners
North Country Times

OCEANSIDE ---- The majority of Oceanside students who didn't pass the state's exit exam ---- a standardized test required of all California high school students ---- are English language learners, according to data released Tuesday by the Oceanside Unified School District.

Sixty-six of the 119 Oceanside high school students who hadn't passed the exit exam by March ---- or 55 percent ---- were English learners, according to Michael Hargrove, the district's director of assessment. The exit exam requires competency in eighth-grade math and tenth-grade English.

Oceanside Deputy Superintendent Larry Perondi said recent exam data is enabling the district to get a clearer idea of exactly how many English learners need targeted help.

"We're discussing getting those kids additional tutoring opportunities," Perondi said, adding that district officials need to communicate better with students about the value of the test preparation courses the district offers.

"We just have to increase the job we do to make sure that students clearly understand all the opportunities that we are providing," he said.

The problems English learners face with the exit exam aren't unique to Oceanside. California Department of Education data show that about one in 10 seniors didn't pass the exit exam but nearly three in 10 English learners who were seniors failed the test.

In the San Dieguito Union High School District, all 31 seniors who seemed to be meeting graduation requirements in February but hadn't passed the exit exam were English learners.

Advocates for English learners criticize the way the state educates and administers standardized tests to students whose primary language isn't English.

"We're punishing the students," said Maria Quezada, executive director of the California Association for Bilingual Education.

"What type of opportunity did they get to learn?" asked Quezada. "Were they taking the right kinds of classes? Are they having access to the curriculum?"

Quezada answered her own questions, saying English learners have an unnecessarily limited opportunity to learn the material they're tested on.

Quezada's organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens and several school districts have filed a lawsuit against the state, charging it with failing to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act in forcing students to take standardized tests in English when they aren't English-proficient.

Denis O'Leary, an education adviser for the league, said 17 states that have large immigrant populations, including New York, Florida and Texas, allow standardized tests in students' native languages, but California doesn't, and thereby violates federal law.

"They're presented academic instruction they don't understand," he said of English learners. "We're asking at a minimum on federal and state tests that we measure their academics in their first language."

Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell, said O'Connell realizes that English learners who recently started learning the language may have a more difficult time performing well on the exit exam.

But, she said, O'Connell urges students who have had problems passing the exam to pursue other options the state offers, such as staying in high school for a fifth year or going to an adult school, or community college where they can get the skills they need to get competitive jobs.

"The remedy for these students is additional education," McLean said.

-- Contact staff writer Keith Rushing at (760) 901-4151 or