June 8, 2007

First Person:

The Fifth Time’s the Charm — Getting Past the Exit Exam

By Jovan Parham

Editor’s Note: One-third of the class of 2006 didn’t pass the California High School Exit Exam. The anxiety and stress students on the bubble feel as they race against time to qualify to walk across the stage causes some students to give up and others to buckle down. Jovan Parham, 18, is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and a high school graduate looking forward to college next fall.

I found out that I would have to take the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) when I was in 10th grade back in 2005. The whole school came together and my principal at Met West Academy (in Oakland) told us about the test. He told us that it has two parts, English and math, and that once you passed it you wouldn’t have to take it again.

I sighed and thought it was just another test that I had to take. My first reaction was that I didn’t want to take it because I knew it was going to be long and boring. Sitting down for a long time with no talking while taking it is not the business.

What I didn’t know at that time was that I would have to take the math portion of the test five times over two years in order to finally pass. This was extremely frustrating, thinking about the consequences if I didn’t pass, like not being able to walk across the stage or possibly making it harder for me to go to college. It was very important to my future that I tried my best to pass the CAHSEE.

I knew from the beginning that the part of the test that I was going to have trouble on was the math part because I never liked math. It is my weakest subject and because of that, I don’t pay as much attention in math classes. I get nervous when it comes to math tests.

In order to prepare for the first test, I studied a little bit. We had a few review sessions on test taking strategies. They also told us to get lots of rest before we took the test and eat a good breakfast. We didn’t sit in a class and go over test questions or anything.

As usual, the test was boring – like all other long tests – and I couldn’t wait until it was over. I also didn’t want to fail, so I took it as seriously as I could.

Since English is my better subject, I felt that I did okay on that part. I had a feeling I wouldn’t pass the math part. It turns out I was right: I didn’t pass the math, but I found out I was only a couple of correct answers from passing. That made me feel relieved, because I thought it wouldn’t be so hard to pass later on.

But then I took it three more times without passing. This made me feel even more hatred towards math because I just couldn’t pass this damn test.

I hated studying for this exam because I just didn’t get it; only some of it was understandable. This made me real frustrated and I would just give up and say, “f—k math” and walk out the classroom.

I was mad because the Exit Exam was taken away and then brought back and I thought that was messed up. I was worried that failing the test would affect whether or not I graduated and whether or not I got accepted to college. I thought that if I had too many bad scores I might not get accepted to somewhere I want to go, or it might be harder to get a scholarship.

I actually lost a scholarship; they didn’t give it to me because I hadn’t passed the exam.

I had to pass so I took an eight-week CAHSEE prep class at my school in March. It was about seventeen students in the class and they all felt the same stress and frustration that I felt. Some of them didn’t pass the last time and had only one more chance to take it in May. I got a lot of support from my teachers and the prep class instructor and I appreciate them for that. They pushed all the students to do well.

The class was boring at times but the teacher was funny, which made the time pass faster, and I ended up liking it. I wasn’t getting a grade in that class so it didn’t matter if I screwed up, but I didn’t. I stayed the whole time and did my work.

Before I took the class I didn’t understand the way the test worked. I would be confused and not know what to do and just guess a lot. In the class, we learned how a lot of the answers on the test are tricks, which are there to try and fool you.

The teacher taught us how to seek the trick answers out and eliminate the wrong ones, so we have a 50 percent chance of getting the answer right. I also learned more math skills in general.

The night before the final test I didn’t think too much about it. I wasn’t nervous — my mom told me to try my hardest to pass because she knew I wasn’t too far from passing the previous times. I had talked to my principal and he told me about another student who hadn’t passed the exam, but was doing okay.

If I didn’t pass the final test I would have taken care of it after school ended and dealt with graduation, college acceptance and scholarship drama.

I would have been upset but what could I do. I would just get my diploma later and call it a day. I would have taken the test again in May if I failed. I wouldn’t be able to walk supposedly but I heard that people walked who didn’t pass last year.

I have been getting good grades and my GPA has always been above a 3.0 and if I didn’t pass this math section I would have done all that hard work for nothing. The learning would have helped me out but if I didn’t walk the stage then it would change everything.

When I sat down to take the test for the last time, it was somewhat easy in the beginning and I was breezing right through. But then I got to the second part of the exam and it became really hard. I felt like I couldn’t focus that much because I just didn’t know the material. I started guessing on a lot of the questions because I didn’t know how to do them. But I thought about my prep class and worked to eliminate the trick answers.

After I took the test, there was nothing to do but wait for my results. One of my friends told me about a rally that some people had organized to protest the Exit Exam. I didn’t go because I had taken my last test and felt like it didn’t have anything to do with me anymore, but I regretted not going because maybe my story could have made a difference. The people in charge of the exam decided to not get rid of the CAHSEE and it is still a statewide test.

Before I got the results from my final test back, I got a letter telling me I was accepted into California State University, East Bay. I was worried that not passing the exit exam would have changed their decision to accept me. But they accepted me based on my grades and essay, not because of some stupid math test. But I knew it would be a problem if I didn’t have my high school diploma.

But I found out that I passed! My teacher called me at my internship to tell me the good news and I was juiced because all my worries were alleviated, finally. I also found out I got into three other colleges including Morehouse in Atlanta. I want to go down south or to a local state college.

I do think the test is unfair because I don’t think a test should decide if someone should graduate or not. Younger students feel me at school because I am a school clown but I always have good grades and encourage other students to do the same.

My advice to everyone who still has to take the exam is to try and take a prep course or just work towards eliminating the wrong answers, even if you don’t know the right one. Plus, it won’t hurt to brush up on your old math skills.

Now that I have passed I plan to go to college and find a career for myself in the future. I want a steady job and I just want to live life and not be boring. I want to have that college experience and have fun.

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