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California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE)

Questions and Answers

What is the CAHSEE?
State law, enacted in 1999, authorized the development of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which students in California public schools would have to pass to earn a high school diploma. All California public school students, except eligible students with disabilities, must satisfy the CAHSEE requirement, as well as all other state and local requirements, to receive a high school diploma. The CAHSEE requirement can be satisfied by passing the examination, or for eligible students with disabilities, meeting the exemption requirement pursuant to California Education Code (EC) Section 60852.3, or receiving a local waiver pursuant to EC Section 60851(c).
The purpose of the CAHSEE is to improve student achievement in high school and to help ensure that students who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade-level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics.

What subjects does the CAHSEE Cover?
The CAHSEE consists of two parts: English–language arts and mathematics. Test questions address California’s content standards that a High School Exit Examination Standards Panel, appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, determined students should know to graduate from high school.

Language Arts
The English–language arts part of the examination, which addresses California’s English–language arts content standards through grade ten, has a reading section and a writing section. The reading section covers vocabulary, informational reading, and literary reading. This section includes approximately 50 percent literary texts and 50 percent informational texts. The writing section covers writing strategies, applications, and conventions. The English–language arts part of the examination consists of 79 multiple-choice questions (seven of which are field-test questions and are not scored) as well as a writing task (essay) in which students are asked to respond to a specific topic, or a literary or informational passage.

The mathematics part of the CAHSEE addresses California’s mathematics content standards in grades six and seven and the first part of algebra. It includes statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement and geometry, algebra and functions, mathematical reasoning, and Algebra I. Students must demonstrate computational skills and a foundation of knowledge in arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions, and percentages. The math part of the examination is composed of 92 multiple-choice questions (twelve of which are field-test questions and are not scored).

The CAHSEE blueprints provide more information on the English-language arts and mathematics content of the examination and are available on the California Department of Education (CDE) CAHSEE Program Resources Web page at

To pass the CAHSEE, a scale score of 350 or higher is required on each part. Students do not need to pass both parts of the CAHSEE during the same test administration to satisfy the CAHSEE requirement.

Are there any exemptions or waivers of the requirement to pass the CAHSEE?
Yes, beginning with the 2009–10 school year, eligible students with disabilities are exempt from the requirement to pass the CAHSEE as a condition of graduation from high school (EC Section 60852.3). An eligible student, as defined in the law, is a student with an individualized education program (IEP) or Section 504 plan that indicates that the student has satisfied or will satisfy all other state and local requirements to receive a high school diploma on or after July 1, 2009.

This CAHSEE exemption will continue until the State Board of Education implements alternative means for students with disabilities to show that they have achieved the same level of academic achievement as students passing the CAHSEE, unless such means are not feasible. More information about the exemption is available on the CDE Questions
and Answers regarding the CAHSEE Exemption Web page at

Eligible students with disabilities, who wish to meet the CAHSEE requirement by passing the examination and have earned the equivalent of a passing score while taking the CAHSEE with a modification, may choose to apply for a waiver of the CAHSEE requirement from their local school board (EC Section 60851[c]). (Although the waiver option is still technically in effect, the exemption under EC Section 60852.3 eliminates the need for the waiver for students who are eligible for the exemption.)

At the request of a student’s parent or guardian, a school principal must submit to the local school governing board a request for a waiver of the requirement to pass the part(s) of the CAHSEE on which a modification was used and the equivalent of a passing score was earned. For the local board to waive the CAHSEE requirement, the principal must certify that the student has met the following conditions:

 1.   An IEP or Section 504 plan is in place that requires the modifications to be provided to the student when taking the CAHSEE.

 2.   The student has either satisfactorily completed or is in progress towards completing high-school-level curriculum sufficient to have attained the skills and knowledge otherwise needed to pass the CAHSEE.

 3.   The student has an individual score report showing that the student has received the equivalent of a passing score on the CAHSEE while using a modification.

What is done to assist students with disabilities when taking the CAHSEE?
CAHSEE regulations specify accommodations and modifications that a student with disabilities must be permitted to use if specified in the student’s IEP or Section 504 plan for use on standardized testing or for use during classroom instruction and assessments. An accommodation is a change in the testing environment or process that does not alter what the CAHSEE measures or affect the comparability of scores, whereas a modification is a change that fundamentally alters what the CAHSEE measures and affects the comparability of scores.

Students who use an accommodation and earn a score of 350 or higher have passed that part of the CAHSEE. Students who use a modification and earn the equivalent of a passing score on one or both parts of the CAHSEE have not passed.

What is done to assist English learners when taking the CAHSEE?
Students who are English learners must be permitted to take the CAHSEE with certain test variations if used regularly in the classroom. For example, if regularly used in the classroom, English learners must be permitted to hear the test directions in their primary language or use a word-for-word translation glossary.

Students who are English learners are required to take the CAHSEE in grade ten with all other grade ten students. During their first 24 months in a California school, English learners are to receive six months of instruction in reading, writing, and comprehension in English (EC Section 60852). During this time, they are still required to take the CAHSEE.

When do students take the CAHSEE?
All students who must meet the CAHSEE requirement, including English learners, will take the examination for the first time in grade ten. Exempt students with disabilities are required, in grade ten only, to take the CAHSEE to meet the requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but not as a condition of graduation. Testing will take place during regular school hours.

When do parents or guardians receive their child’s CAHSEE results?
Approximately seven weeks after each administration of the examination, school districts receive two copies of the CAHSEE Student and Parent Report for each student who took the examination. When school districts receive these reports, they are to immediately distribute one copy to parents or guardians and place the other copy in the student’s permanent record.

Do parents or guardians need to keep a copy of their child’s results?
Yes. It is important that parents or guardians keep a copy of the student score report for their own records. The California Department of Education does not keep copies of individual student score reports. Individual student scores are to be maintained by the student’s school district. The school district must ensure the records are maintained confidentially. (EC Section 49073 and Title 20 United States Code Section 1232[g].)

How many opportunities do students have to pass the CAHSEE?
All students are required to take the CAHSEE for the first time in grade ten. Students who do not pass one or both parts of the examination in grade ten have up to two opportunities in grade eleven and at least three and up to five opportunities in grade twelve to retake the part(s) of the examination not yet passed. The CAHSEE testing schedule for the 2009–10 school year is posted on the CDE CAHSEE Administrative Documents Web page at School districts select their testing dates from this schedule.

What happens if students do not pass the CAHSEE?
School districts are required to provide additional instruction to assist students who do not pass the examination. Students, including students who are English learners, who have not passed one or both parts of the CAHSEE by the end of grade twelve may contact their school or school district to inquire about options available to them.

Is the CAHSEE used for school and school district accountability purposes?
Yes. The state and federal governments use the CAHSEE as a measure of school and school district accountability. The state accountability program is the Public Schools Accountability Act, and the federal accountability program is the ESEA.

How can parents or guardians get their questions answered about the CAHSEE?
Additional CAHSEE information is available on the CDE CAHSEE Web page at Parents or guardians should direct their questions to their child’s teachers or contact the school principal or counselor.