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Even though some high school students won’t like it, they’re still going to have to pass the state’s exit exam before getting on with the rest of their lives. San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal rejected arguments Friday that the California High School Exit Examination isn’t fair to students for whom English is a second language, or for those who attend poorer schools. And they faulted Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman for trying to allow students who had failed the test to graduate anyway. Vacating his preliminary injunction, the appeal court called it “legally impermissible, misdirected in character and overbroad in scope.” Attorneys for students who had failed the exam, commonly called the CAHSEE, had argued their clients should be allowed to graduate because the school system didn’t do enough to prepare them for the test. Friday’s ruling by Justice Ignazio Ruvolo made it clear the appeal court believed the exam was not only fair, but also designed to help students excel. “As important as the CAHSEE may be to socially disadvantaged students who pass the exam,” Ruvolo wrote, “it is of equal importance to plaintiffs who have not passed.” One goal of the test, he pointed out, is to identify students who lack the minimal level of proficiency demanded by the exit exam, so they can be targeted for remedial instruction. “Only in this way,” Ruvolo added, “can they be assured of gaining the equal educational opportunity for which the instant lawsuit was brought.” Justices Timothy Reardon and Patricia Sepulveda concurred in the ruling, rendered only 16 days after oral arguments. Criticizing Freedman’s call, the court said his mandate that the plaintiff students receive diplomas, rather than additional remediation, “works a cruel irony by depriving plaintiffs of the very education to which they have a fundamental constitutional right.” Jack O’Connell, the superintendent of public instruction who helped write the exit exam while he was a state senator, said the decision validates the state’s attempt to raise educational standards. “The exit exam is a key piece of this effort,” he said, “and retaining it will enable us to continue on the path of improving all schools.” Ruvolo also used the ruling to push the state and other parties into taking steps to ensure all students receive a proper education. He urged them “to step outside their ‘fog of war’ and cooperatively find the pathways necessary to provide equal and adequate access to meaningful remedial assistance to students in the class of 2007 and beyond.” The full text of O’Connell v. Superior Court ( Valenzuela), A113933 ( .pdf), will appear in Tuesday’s California Daily Opinion Service.

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