Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Embracing CHSPE Allows a Pathway to School Reform

The California High School Proficiency Exam, CHSPE, which is lawfully equivalent to a high school diploma for any purpose in California, serves as the linchpin for comprehensive, yet low-cost, school reform in California.  It accomplishes this through three critical benefits:
  1. The CHSPE serves as graduation insurance for students as schools increase rigor.
  2. The CHSPE helps implement an Early College, which improves college success.
  3. The CHSPE allows students to take courses they want to take, which reduces dropouts.
Schools want to increase rigor. For example, Algebra 2 or three years of science could be graduation requirements. However, the very real risk of increasing dropouts makes this effort very risky. For a principal or superintendent to bet the future on the words of pundits or a few researchers claiming that more rigor also will magically reduce dropouts is foolhardy, but if a safety net presented itself that also enhances the transition of students to community colleges or vocations, then the vigorous deployment of not only rigorous courses, but also career-oriented courses with extra support for students starting community colleges could proceed reversibly. Reform need not mimic Cortez's burning of his ships. The California High School Proficiency Exam, CHSPE, offers each student graduation insurance, and therefore supplies an often ignored mechanism in gaining community support in reforming schools.

In brief, CHSPE-based reform helps solve the problems of many courses being too easy, students needing remedial courses in college, students not completing college, and high drop-out rates, with the possibility of improved API scores.

Increasing Rigor Flexibly

a. The high school must request a waiver from its district for added graduation requirements for incoming ninth graders.  For example, while different pathways to rigor exist, many graduation requirement sets would include either three years of both science and math or statements like Chemistry, Biology, Physics or Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus or Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Statistics.  The requirement set could be modified each year, and hold for the entering class.
b. Similar to colleges stating graduation requirements for entering students, a high school would notify eighth graders that its requirements will be different than the standard in the district. Eighth graders would have the option of starting at another high school, if space is available. They also would be told that they could take the CHSPE in tenth grade and graduate early or stay in school with a special schedule, if they so chose after passing the CHSPE.

c. Graduation requirements could be modified for each entering class as feedback on student success and difficulties and results on increased rigor became available.  In particular, the choices that students make after taking the CHSPE and later, the actual results of those decisions would determine the effectiveness of this approach to high school reform.

CHSPE and Student Decision-Making

d.  Eight and ninth grade students would be informed that those who complete Algebra and two years of high school math strongly perform well on CHSPE and graduate early. Those who neglect studying flounder and struggle through four years of high school.

e. The CHSPE would voluntarily be taken in February and June during tenth grade. With a cost of nearly $100, students would be careful in taking it. There is no legal reason for a school to pay for the CHSPE. However, organizations such as a PTA could partially subsidize the fee.

f. Students who pass the CHSPE would enjoy these options:
  • Simply stay in high school and graduate at the end of 12th grade.
  • Graduate immediately with family permission.  This would allow a full community college course load with fees. However, student failure is likely. Early high school withdrawal could be effectively discouraged by the obvious benefits of the other choices. However, early withdrawal would serve students who want to start a non- or low-technical trade program or possibly those who seek a certificate program from a community college. 
  • Complete, but do not file, school withdrawal papers.  Students would gain these benefits:
1. Able to take two community college classes without fees
2. Attend high school on a reduced schedule with study halls for college classes
3. Reduced schedule could include focused courses such as robotics or drama 
4. Reduced schedule could simply be independent study courses supporting college classes
5. Enjoy food and activities such as sports, which would be inappropriate for those NCAA-bound
  • Students, who graduate early, would be welcome to reapply for admittance. There is no need to penalize students for making unfortunate choices that could be mitigated.
  • Instruction in 11th and 12th grade would operate at higher levels than currently employed. Students who couldn't or wouldn't meet the standards could always opt-out by passing the CHSPE or transferring to another high school, if remediation proved ineffective.
  • Students who cannot pass the CHSPE would be served as current students are. However, with, hopefully, fewer numbers they could be identified and focused on better than today.
The Opposite of Cynicism

In could be said that encouraging CHSPE is an improper way of increasing a school's graduation rate or decreasing it's dropout rate, but the opposite has been far worse for decades.  Although aware, very few California school officials tell parents and young adults of the CHSPE's availability because bodies are dollars in ADA districts.  Arguments against the CHSPE are self-serving, while arguments for the CHSPE are informational and grant options to students and parents.  It young adults another way, perhaps their only way, to succeed.  Explaining the benefits and disadvantages of the CHSPE is professional and proper.

In Basic Aid districts, not ADA districts, a student leaving school is close to revenue-neutral.

Note: CAHSEE vis a vis CHSPE

The CAHSEE is a necessary condition for awarding a high school diploma, as set by state law. The CHSPE is sufficient to be recognized as a diploma for ANY PURPOSE under state law.  The CAHSEE is easier than CHSPE because its tests lower level math standards.  In addition, the CHSPE includes an essay examination in its English componenent.


Kelly Davis said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Dennis. I believe there are high school students who fail or drop out not because they can't do the academics, but because they're simply too mature for the high school "scene". These students are well-served by being able to take the CHSPE to prove their academic worth, then move on to community college. The CHSPE also serves the students who are deficient in credit through no fault of their own, i.e. the kid (like me) who moved seven times during high school, or the kid who works to help feed his family and is simply too exhausted physically and emotionally to do well in school.

The CHSPE should be offered and encouraged more frequently than it is, and celebrated by allowing the student to walk in the graduation ceremony of the year he/she passes the test.

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