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Blast From the Past — Student Voice & the CA High School Exit Exam

Exit Exam Pic

Former San Jose CFJ Student Leader Alumni and Lead Organizer Rosa De Leon San Jose Mercury News Op-ed: Exit exams unfairly limit students’ potential

Exit Exam PicMore than a decade ago– in 2001, hundreds of English Learners, low-income students, and students of color rallied against the California State Board of Education demanding the state end the CA High School Exit Exam. One of those student leaders was Rosa De Leon, a 16 year old Junior at Overfelt High School in San Jose, California. Rosa knew, that without adequate support and a guarantee from the CA Department of Education of a quality education, many students, mostly students of color, would not pass the exam.

Just 3 months after she immigrated from Mexico she was expected to pass the Exit Exam. Rosa’s English Language Development teacher’s enthusiasm about her potential turned into hopelessness. With little support, Rosa’s teachers did what they could with the little support they had.

In 2003, after two years fighting the exam, 81 percent of English Learners, 74% of Black students, and 70 percent of Latino Students had failed at least one part of the test. Rosa was one of them. And in those two years, young, unafraid, and undocumented, Rosa took her voice to the boardroom of the CA State Board of Education and the halls of the Capitol to demand an end to the Exit Exam. While Californians for Justice Student Leaders did not end the Exit Exam, their efforts delayed the Exit Exam for two years!Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 2.50.14 PM

The 2003 delay and the Governor’s recent move to finally end the Exit Exam once and for all are huge victories for low-income and students of color across the state. It is a testament to the power of Student Voice – when students believe in something, and stand up for what they believe in, they can and will make a change. This fight, however, goes beyond this one single test. Our work to abolish the Exit Exam was about the continued lack of support and resources for students and school staff.

The end of the CA HS Exit Exam era is an opportunity to reimagine and transform our public education system into one that values youth and provides a quality education for all students. We look forward to continuing to lead the transformation of public education in California.

What happened to Rosa? Find out by reading her op-ed below.

Rosa De León: Exit exams unfairly limit students’ potential  San Jose Mercury News Op-EdScreen Shot 2015-10-15 at 2.51.20 PM

Read Rosa’s Op-Ed here.


In 2002, I was a sophomore at Overfelt High School. Just three months after I immigrated from Mexico, I was part of the first class of students required to take the exit exam. It was clear that as an English learner, with the limited support my school could provide, my chances of passing the test were low.

At the time, my teachers administered Exit Exams in my English Language Development class with low hopes that we would pass. I saw my teachers struggling to help us pass the test. The California Board of Education didn’t believe that school staff needed more support to help us meet the standards and pass the exam.”



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