Latino and African-American students in San Diego Unified are gaining ground on the high school exit exam, chipping away at the achievement gap between students of different races and economic classes.

Overall, more San Diego Unified sophomores passed the high school exit exam this year, according to new results released by the state. The numbers have inched up over time: Four years ago, 76 percent of San Diego Unified sophomores passed the English test. This year 82 percent passed the test. Math gains were a little bigger, going from 76 percent of sophomores four years ago to 85 percent this year.

The gains were especially striking for students of color.

The percentage of Latino students who passed the math exam surged from 66 percent to 79 percent in the past year, a gain of 13 percentage points. White students still outperform them (96 percent passed math) but their gains were smaller. The result is that over the past four years, the gap between white and Latino students in San Diego Unified on the math test shrunk from 25 percentage points to 17. That’s still a problem. But it’s a smaller one.

The trend is similar at the state level.

Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer said that one reason the achievement gap may be narrowing on the high school exit exam, even as it persists on other state tests, is that the exit exam is measuring fundamental skills, instead of gauging “peaks and valleys” in performance. Either you pass the test or you don’t.

But Meyer added that the narrowing gap is still a good sign. “It tells us that we are bringing up students that we weren’t reaching before,” Meyer said.

There is one big thing that makes this test different from other California tests: It matters to the kids who take it. Other state tests are used to gauge schools but usually have little impact on students. This test stands between high schoolers and an ordinary diploma. Students have their first chance to take the test in 10th grade; if they don’t pass they have more chances to take it later in high school.

Just how hard are these tests?

Here’s an example question provided by the California Department of Education. Teens might have to read a short article that describes the role of the corpus callosum, a band of fibers that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, and then answer a question like this:

Read this sentence from the article: “In some pioneering experiments, researchers have studied the behavior of patients who have had their corpus callosum severed through surgery.”

What is the meaning of severed in this sentence?

A – healed

B – split

C – examined

D – stretched

You can check out all the results on the California Department of Education website. Please share your observations and tips here on the blog!

Emily Alpert is the education reporter for What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at

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Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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