Important Facts Regarding the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE)

What is the CAHSEE?

In 1999, California enacted a law required that every California public school student pass an examination to receive a high school diploma. The purpose of the exam is to ensure that high school graduates are able to use mathematics and con read and write in English effectively and competently. This decision was highly controversial and met with huge opposition. In July 2003, the California State Board of Education decided that the Class of 2006 would be the first students required to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) to receive a diploma. The rational for the delay for implementation was to give both educators and students several years to prepare themselves for the exam.

When do you take the CAHSEE?

The CAHSEE is administered over two days, usually during a studentís 10th grade year in high school. On the first day, students will take the English-language arts portion of the test; on the second day, they will take the mathematics portion. 

What does the CAHSEE test?

The English-language arts section consists of multiple-choice questions and a short writing assignment. The mathematics portion of the test is composed entirely of multiple-choice questions. All the questions on the CAHSEE are based on Californiaís academic content standards in English-language arts and mathematics. These standards outline what students are expected to know and be able to do by the end of each school year from kindergarten through high school.

What math topics does the CAHSEE test?

The CAHSEE is designed to address skills that are fundamentally important to daily life. Therefore, the CAHSEE tests skills addressed in sixth grade, seventh grade standards (all strands) and Algebra 1 standards. The exam includes statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement and geometry, mathematical reasoning and algebra. Students are also asked to demonstrate a strong foundation in computation and arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions and percentages.

The breakdown is as follows:

Strand Number of Questions Percentage of CAHSEE
Math Exam
Number Sense 14 17.5%
Stats, Data Analysis, Probability 12 15.0%
Measurement and Geometry  17 21.25%
Algebra and Functions 17 21.25%
Math Reasoning 8 10%
Algebra 1 12 15.0%
Totals  80 100%

More on Algebra and the CAHSEE >

When do you find out if you passed?

School districts receive students?score reports about two month after the date of the exam. One copy is kept in the studentís permanent record and the other is mailed home. (It is important that parents/guardians keep their copy. The State of California does not keep a copy of the scores.) Scores range from 275 to 450. A passing score is 350 or higher.

What if you donít pass the CAHSEE?

Students who do not pass the exam in the tenth grade year will have several opportunities to pass in their junior and senior years. Once the student has passed a section of the exam, they will not have to retake that portion of the exam. Students that fail a portion of the exam must, by law, be offered extra instruction to learn what they need to know in order to pass. Contact your school administration and counselor immediately to find out what type of help is available.

What if a student has special needs?

If a student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan, it should describe any special arrangements the student is entitled to while taking the exam.

What if a student has not passed by their senior year?

By law, districts are required to provide instructional support for students struggling to pass the CAHSEE. However, if student has met all high school requirements and has not passed the CAHSEE by the end of their senior year, they will not receive a high school diploma. Students may retake the test up to three times a year until they pass, no matter how many times that takes. Students are entitled to support from their district to help achieve this milestone.

Are districts held accountable?

Absolutely! 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 No Child Left Behind Act. The use of CAHSEE results for these accountability programs in no way affects how the CAHSEE is used for individual student accountability.

For more information and resources about the CAHSEE visit

Source: California. California Department of Education. Preparing for the California High School Exit Exam. Sacramento: CDE Press, 2004.


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