By Pixie Sulser
No one at the Ramona Unified School District Board meeting doubts how proud Ramona High School is of the first members of the school’s 90/90 Club.
After several loud knocks on the board room door, RHS Assistant Principal Dave Lohman—dressed in his commencement gown and followed by an energetic group of confetti-throwing students— rushed into the room, asking, “Did you hear that Ramona High School got 90? Did you hear that?” during the school board meeting last Thursday evening.
This year, 90 percent of Ramona High’s sophomores passed the English portion of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) and 93 percent passed the math section. Those are the highest scores Ramona students have ever received on the statewide evaluation.
Not to be outdone and with apparent knowledge of the RHS contingent in the hallway waiting to be let in, Mountain Valley Academy Principal Carol Tennebaum dramatically waved her wand, which made soft “swoosh” sounds as Dr. Cathy Pierce, Ramona Unified School District’s assistant superintendent of education services, announced that 100 percent of MVA sophomores passed the English section of the CAHSEE and 97 percent passed the math portion.
Results for this year’s Montecito High School sophomores show 64 percent passed the English section and 92 percent passed the math portion.
After rounding the board room, giving board members and district administrators high fives, the RHS group huddled in the center of the room, with Lohman leading the students in a resounding “one, two, three—Bulldogs!” and they were gone as quickly as they had arrived.
Cleanup of the red, white and blue strips of confetti came before school started last Friday.
“They’ll come in very early in the morning...They just want the moment of celebration,” said Pierce.
The primary purpose of the exam is to ensure that students who graduate from public high schools can demonstrate grade level competency in reading, writing and math. Comprised of two parts, English and math, the test addresses state standards through grade 10 in language arts and mathematical standards in grades 6 and 7 as well as Algebra I.
In addition to credit requirements, students need a passing score on both sections of the CAHSEE to receive a high school diploma.
For the past six years, high school students in California have had to pass the CAHSEE to receive their diploma. High school sophomores take the test for the first time in February, and, if they pass, do not have to take it again. Those who do not pass have other opportunities to take the exam.
For the past three years, RHS Principal Tony Newman has challenged each sophomore class to hit the 90/90 mark.
The previous classes have come close, but the graduating class of 2014 reached the pinnacle, earning them a special something from school administration. Their “prize” is in the planning stages.
Assistant Principal Kathryn Gunderson attributes the students’ high scores to the preparation teachers have done at the elementary and middle school levels in addition to the help students receive once they reach the high school.
“Our teachers and students are focused on learning, and the test results are very personal for the kids,” remarked Gunderson.
Since students must pass the CAHSEE to receive a high school diploma, those who do not pass the test receive assistance.
“Tenth grade students who are at risk of not passing are pulled from elective classes or physical education classes in order to participate in additional instruction,” said Gunderson. “We identify at-risk students through teacher recommendation, MAPS testing and subject grades. Twenty days prior to the CAHSEE, we work with the students to review and remediate skills.”
Students who do not receive a passing score in their sophomore year may continue to test in their junior and senior years. Those working toward a passing score but who haven’t achieved one by graduation may walk in the ceremony but will not receive their high school diploma until the CAHSEE requirement is met.
Students have up to two years after graduation to pass the CAHSEE.
“AB347 (state law) was enacted several years ago which entitles those students to come back and receive more classes in CAHSEE in math or language arts, whatever they need in order to pass...so there are opportunities for them to get their high school diploma,” said Pierce.
In her PowerPoint presentation to the board, Pierce noted that Ramona’s districtwide pass rate for sophomores was the same as Ramona High’s: 90 percent in language arts and 93 in math.
Of the 529 high school seniors in Ramona’s Class of 2011, 480 have passed the CAHSEE and 49 have not. Of the 49, only nine will have enough credits to graduate in June.
The rest are credit deficient, special education, non-diploma bound or foreign exchange students, Pierce reported, noting that special education students do not have to pass the CAHSEE as a condition of graduation.
Results of CAHSEE tests taken in March are not available yet, so some of the nine students may have passed, Pierce said, adding that the test will be given again in May.
—Maureen Robertson contributed to this report.