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Sharp exit for leaving exam

UNITED STATES

CALIFORNIA suspended its high-school leaving exam last week amid fears that tens of thousands of students would fail.

Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction and architect of California's exit exam, cancelled the July test. He recommended it be mothballed until schools have had more time to gear up for the make-or-break exam.

To date, just 62 per cent of the 459,000 California students due to leave school next year have passed the maths part of the test which takes nine hours over two days.This is despite the fact that many have taken it several times. The pass rate for the English test is 81 per cent.

The exam, to certify that students have mastered the secondary curriculum, is first administered at 16, and students get eight attempts at it. It is considered vital in the job market.

But a study commissioned by California's government predicted that up to 92,000 may still fail.

The state's education chiefs are expected to ratify Mr O'Connell's recommendation next month. They will also consider whether to shorten the maths test and reduce the pass mark from 55 to 40 per cent.

Alaska, Arizona, Maryland and North Carolina also recently beat hasty retreats from high-school exit exams, seen as essential in the new climate of academic accountability.

In Florida, which embraced exit exams most aggressively, thousands of pupils who failed the test took to the streets last month in protest that it discriminated against minority students whose under-resourced schools were not equipped to prepare them.

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