Fight For Your Dreams – Students Graduate From SFIHS Without the CAHSEE
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
Graduation from high school comes in many forms. Sure, there’s the cap and gown. Listening to speeches about what a great future we’ll all have. Stepping up on a stage to accept your diploma. Throwing your mortarboard hat in the air with everyone else at the end of the ceremony. Lots of cheers.
Then there’s the graduation experience of deserving students who did everything right in high school, but couldn’t pass the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE.) They didn’t pass because they didn’t do the work or know the subject matter. They didn’t pass because when they arrived in high school as juniors or seniors, they didn’t know enough English to ask where the bathroom is located, much less analyze advanced sentences that include spelling and grammar mistakes.
But things changed. In July 2015, California didn’t renew the testing company contract and the test was suspended. There were some confusing weeks as state law said that all students had to pass the CAHSEE to graduate, and no test meant that students were in limbo. But in August, Governor Brown abolished the CAHSEE. It was considered an old test that didn’t align to state standards, and not worth reinstating. In addition, all students who had not passed the test since it started in 2006 automatically became high school graduates.
On Friday, February 4, San Francisco International High School (SFIHS) held the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2013, 2014 and 2015 students who had not passed the CAHSEE, but were now considered high school grads.
No caps and gowns, but amazing smiles and cheers from the graduates, their friends and family and especially the teachers and staff of SFIHS.
You could feel the excitement in the room. These students had worked hard to get through high school, but couldn’t enter college without a high school diploma. Now they had one, and life had changed.
Student speaker Yanyan Chen said that when she arrived at SFIHS all she knew was the English alphabet – her ABCs.
“I couldn’t pass the CAHSEE in my senior year, so I took the SPARK* program,” she said. “I took extra English and earned 11 units at City College of San Francisco. It helped me figure out my goal. I want to go into San Francisco State University’s Hospitality and Tourism Management program. I am confident I can be a successful student.”
Student Speaker Eric Perez said that when he arrived in the United States, he didn’t know how to say “hi” or ask where the bathroom was located. But the teachers, staff and fellow students inspired him to keep going on the path to success.
“Not passing the CAHSEE was a block to attend college and a block for my big dreams,” Perez said. “It was really hard. My dreams disappeared when I got the news. Now I can fight for my dreams, get a good education and be better.”
Principal Julie Kessler said that there were approximately 40,000 students in California who are now eligible for their high school diploma. One SFIHS student was accepted in UC Berkeley, but couldn’t attend because he didn’t pass the CAHSEE, thus no high school diploma.
“We are encouraging him to reapply, and our SPARK program will help him fill out the application, but he is reluctant,” said Kessler. “He needed to begin his life, and now he’s a security guard and has started a family. Where does he fit in college when he needs to support his family?”
After the low-key ceremony where graduates names were called out and they went to the podium to pick up their certificate, it was time to party. Parents, children, friends and teachers all hugged and congratulated the new grads. Snacks and sparkling apple cider were served.
Graduate Juan Fernando Delasque posed for a photo shoot holding his diploma and wearing the one graduation cap in the room, which was making the photo op/selfie rounds. The diploma certified that Juan Fernando, who has “evidence of scholarship and trustworthy character has completed the Course of Study in accordance with the requirements for graduation of the SF Unified School District.”
Congratulations SFIHS graduates! You make all of us at ACE proud!
*SPARK is a program in the ACE Learning Center at SFIHS.