Rays of Hope for CAHSEE and State Budget


Email Sandra Nichols

  "California schools and the teachers, administrators, and students who inhabit them have been pushing themselves with increasing energy to upgrade what a diploma in California means."


ut of the hurricane level turbulent winds of the State budget crisis come rays of hope. And your School Board is there for you.

After being urged to do so by the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board, the State Board of Education took action on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) on July 9. The action will make possible recognition for students who pass CAHSEE while not punishing those students who have been unable to do so.

As you know, the State Board postponed the CAHSEE as a graduation requirement until the Class of '06 gets ready for their walk in the cap and gown.

There are lesser known features of the State Board decision which will affect our students in a very positive manner as advocated in the PVUSD Board Resolution voted into effect on May 28.

PVUSD and the State Board of Education agree! For the next two years, local school districts are going to be able to reward students who have passed both math and language arts sections of the CAHSEE with a certificate or a seal on their diploma for that special accomplishment. Students who have not passed that test but who have successfully completed the rigorous coursework, and met all of the recognized criteria required of high school students today will get a diploma.

That diploma will symbolize that the student had the educational stamina, skills and dedication needed to perform adequately in the classes.

The achievement of completing the coursework in most cases represents 13 years of study, commencing in kindergarten. Now, for some of us whose parents attended college, completing coursework through your senior year of high school does not stand out as an especially remarkable achievement. However for some of us, having a child complete high school is a huge event representing the first child in a family to attain such a high level of education. For some of us with children with special needs, the achievement is nothing short of a miracle of special education. Those are the students whose reward and accomplishment we are protecting by recognizing their achievement and persistence.

You see, your California schools and the teachers, administrators, and students who inhabit them have been pushing themselves with increasing energy to upgrade what a diploma in California means. There has been much success in this effort and that success can be recognized by these proposed special CAHSEE certificates or seals on diplomas.

I have heard much community support for this outcome. I have also heard some small measure of objection. Let's consider the objection.

It has come to my attention that there are those who find it completely incomprehensible that seniors in high school might not speak English well enough to pass the CAHSEE. What can I say to those who feel this way?

The world is a big place. We are not all the same. We are not all born into English speaking families. Please take it into account that where you were born, when you came to this country, and what language your parents speak is a matter of happenstance beyond your control. And yes — our schools are dedicated to the goal of English fluency for all of our students.

Bravo to the State Board of Education for taking reality into account in their decision!

Another ray of hope is an initiative that deals with California's budget catch-22 of which some may be unaware. Currently, a two-thirds majority of the Legislature is required to pass the state budget. That budget is to be decided upon by July 1st, but it is always overdue. Months overdue! The time lag of a late budget impacts on school districts throughout California, which must also decide upon their annual budgets by July 1st. The local school boards meet the deadline because it is required by law, but the State does not, mainly because a two-thirds vote is a near impossibility.

The California Federation of Teachers and Education Matters agree that this system must changed. We need to make it possible for the State to get their budget act together by the same deadline local districts are doing so. Petitions are now being circulated to get this initiative on the ballot which would require only a 55% vote rather than a two-thirds majority.

If you wish to help circulate or sign that petition, please contact me. Working together we can continue to take strides to improve the outlook for our public schools and the students.

Sandra Nichols is President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board serving 20,000 students in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. She is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools, and was recently appointed by the Board of Supervisors to the Santa Cruz County Children and Youth Commission. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2003