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SACRAMENTO – The state Board of Education on Wednesday voted against offering alternative assessments for students who fail to pass California’s high school exit exam. The unanimous decision means that potentially tens of thousands of high school seniors who have been unable to pass the two-part test will not be allowed to graduate with their classmates. This year’s senior class is the first required to pass the exam. The 1999 law establishing the test said the Department of Education needed to study alternatives for students who were deemed “highly proficient” but still were unable to pass. Board of Education member Donald Fisher argued against other assessments, saying the exam measures basic English and math skills that all potential high school graduates should possess. Critics of the department said state education officials did not seriously investigate other options before last December, when they held the first public meeting. On Wednesday, the department issued a memorandum outlining its efforts since 1999 to review alternatives. State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, said the department and the board failed to fully study alternatives until the last minute. She said state education officials had five years to investigate other assessments but waited until late last year to begin the process, which she said violated the exit exam legislation. She also said those meetings were not open to the public. “The public has not had an opportunity to review this,” she said before the board’s vote. “Give us an opportunity to study the issue, to participate.” The board’s vote against recommending alternatives was 10-0, with one abstention. “We have no alternative now but to seek justice in the courts,” said Chris Young, an attorney with Morrison Foerster, the San Francisco law firm that filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of 10 students who can’t pass at least one part of the exam. After the vote, Young said the board had avoided the most critical issue – whether other options were seriously reviewed. Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who wrote the original law while he was a state senator, said he was confident the department followed the rules. He recommended that the board keep the exit exam as the sole measurement of whether students should earn diplomas. Students who fail it can get extra tutoring, take another year of high school or move on to community college and take the test again later, he said. “We know we’re challenging the system,” O’Connell said. “But it’s paying dividends. Students are taking their high school much more seriously.” Starting in 10th grade, students have multiple opportunities to take the two sections of the test, which measures 10th-grade English and eighth-grade math skills. Some schools are offering the test as late as May. Nearly half the states have a similar graduation requirement, but most offer alternatives for students who can’t pass. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant “The test is very simple,” he said. “I would be surprised if they could be ‘highly proficient’ and not be able to pass this test.” The Legislature would have had to approve an alternative if the board had recommended one. About 100,000 seniors, more than one-fifth of the state’s roughly 450,000 high school seniors, had not passed at least one of the sections at the start of this school year. State officials have said they do not have updated figures, although they say the number is likely much lower now because students have had several chances to take the exam. One group of students has filed a lawsuit claiming the exam is illegal and discriminatory. The students are seeking a court injunction to delay the consequences of the exam for the Class of 2006 – an exemption already won by special-education students, who received a one-year reprieve.