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Carlmont Students Prepare for High School Exit Exam

Carlmont High English teacher Kelly Redmon explains what students -- and parents -- can do to maximize the chances of passing the California High School Exit Exam.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 560+ sophomores at will take the anticipated California High School Exit Exam [CAHSEE].

Beginning with the class of 2006, taking and passing the exam is required for all public students in California in order to earn a diploma. Needless to say, this is an extremely high stakes test.

According to the Calfornia Department of Education website, “The primary purpose of the California High School Exit Examination 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 comes in two parts. On Tuesday, sophomores will take the English Language Arts portion of the exam. This part includes 79-multiple choice questions and an essay. On Wednesday, students will take the Mathematics portion of the exam which consists of 92 multiple-choice questions. 

I teach sophomore English, so this is test is something I have been preparing my students for all year. The past two weeks I have been doing an intensive CAHSEE preparation unit to help them review and prepare for the exam.  I teach four sections of sophomore English and I predict the majority of my students will pass the exam. 

So what happens to the students who don’t pass the exam?

They take the exam again and again until they pass it beginning in their junior year (two times) and their senior year (four times). As you can imagine, for the student who has to repetedly take it over and over again, it becomes very frustrating and discouraging. 

Some may ask, why don’t all students pass the exam? Well, this is a very complex and difficult question with a lot of answers. In general, here’s what I’ve noticed.

There’s the handful of students who don’t pass because of test anxiety. They don’t perform well under pressure and they sort of freeze up when they take the test.

There’s a cluster of students who don’t pass because they just came here from other countries and therefore haven’t mastered reading and writing in the English language, yet are still expected to take the exam and pass it like the rest of the students who may have been here their whole lives.

And there’s another group of students who won’t pass because they didn’t master or obtain certain key skills coming from their elementary and junior high schools.

My job is to teach all these students, no matter what level they are at, the information needed in order to pass this exam. It’s no small task and it’s not easy. There’s a lot of criticism about the CAHSEE, but I’m not here to point the finger.

Is it a flawed test? Sure -- afterall, flawed people created the test. But, is it an attempt to try and close the achievement gap? Yes. Is it the best approach? Probably not, but it’s what we’re working with right now.

Here are some ways that parents and other family members can help:

1) Rest
One of the best things you can do to help your child succeed on the CAHSEE is to make sure they get to bed and get 8-10 hours of sleep. No late night texting or Facebooking. 

2) Refuel
Students need brain food the morning of the test. Please don’t send them to school with a doughnut and some orange juice; something high in sugar like that's going to go right through them and make them tired after their sugar high. Pack them with nutrition that will stick with them and give them the strength they will need to sit through a long test. Pack them protein and whole grains. Milk, yogurt, cheese, breakfast links, toast, waffles, bagels, and fresh fruit.

3) Review
Help your student review the information the night before. Monday night you should have your student review for the English Language Arts portion of the test. Tuesday night have them review for Math. You can find practice test questions at the California Department of Education website (see Resources). In addition, many teachers have provided students with review sheets and/or packets.

4) Rah-Rah
Encourage your student to do the best they can. Talk about how you get over anxiety; what are your own coping mechanisms that you can share with them? Also let them know that if they don’t pass, it’s okay. Obviously it would be great if they could pass it now -- then they don’t have to worry about it again -- but let them know you still support them and will work with them if they don’t pass it.

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