Organizing Wins CA Test Delay

K-12 Testing

On July 9, hundreds of students, parents, and teachers from across California converged on the State Board of Education to expose school inequality and demand a delay to the state’s high school exit exam. We marched in the Sacramento heat; spoke to reporter after reporter; met with legislators; and celebrated with the “Summer Jam,” which featured spoken word and political hip-hop. We filled the Board’s meeting room, lined up to speak for over an hour of testimony, and compelled Board members to answer us directly and address our concerns. And we won a two-year delay of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).


Our mobilization – the “Summer Jam to Stop the Exit Scam” – was a joyful day of action that expressed the power and unity built during two years of hard organizing. At the national level, this victory in California echoes and, we hope, amplifies other work across the country for racial justice in education. The Campaign for Quality Education, coordinated by Californians for Justice, works for a long-term vision of quality schools as well as addressing the immediate challenge of the Exit Exam. CFJ and allies – such as Coalition for Educational Justice, Youth Organizing Communities, Public Advocates, CalCARE, Disability Rights Advocates, and many others – have worked for equitable school funding, working school bathrooms, access to college prep, fair discipline practices, and more. We’ve talked not just about disparities in Exit Exam scores, but about learning conditions in schools serving students of color, low-income students, and English Learner students. These conditions include not nearly enough teachers or textbooks, overcrowding, rats and cockroaches. We’ve researched problems in local schools, held rallies around the state, and gotten media attention by showing the bad news.


The good news is that on July 9, the State Board finally listened. Just a year earlier, the Board treated us with disdain, trying to bar participants from a meeting and barely responding to testimony. This summer we packed their space with over 50 students and parents wearing red t-shirts – leaving test company representatives wearing suits to stand outside. Over 300 more of us chanted loudly as we marched past the meeting’s windows.


Inside the meeting, two dozen students, parents, teachers, and supporters testified about how the Exit Exam worsens serious inadequacies in their schools. Long Beach student Samantha Knox asked, “Do you really think we don’t take our education seriously?” We demanded that the Board delay the test until all students have a real opportunity to learn and alternative assessments are valid for a diploma. This time, Board members felt compelled to respond directly to speakers, agreeing that students do not, in fact, receive an equal opportunity to learn.


There’s much more to be done. We didn’t win the day’s more ambitious goal: a delay longer than two years. But we cheered and applauded when four of the Board members repeated our slogan that “two years is not enough.” These four – notably, all the adult members of color, three of whom are educators – supported Board member Luis Rodriguez’ motion to amend the delay to three years. Though the motion failed 4-5, the final vote for a two-year delay was unanimous.


We’ve come a long way from students and parents being ignored, and we’ve won one serious battle. We’ll keep fighting for quality education. As we chanted in the day’s closing rally, “We’ll be back!”


For more about CFJ and the Campaign for Quality Education, and to download our “First Things First” report, go to