A Way to Help Struggling Seniors Pass High-Stakes Tests

from Educators' eZine

Where we live CAHSEE rules! CAHSEE stands for California High School Exit Examination, a high-stakes test which all public school students must pass as one part of the requirements to receive a high school diploma. The purpose of the CAHSEE is to improve student achievement in high school and to help ensure that our students who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade-level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics.

Students are required to take the CAHSEE for the first time in grade ten. If they don't pass one or both parts they have up to two more opportunities in grade eleven, and then up to three opportunities in grade twelve to retake the part(s) of the exam not yet passed.

As superintendent of the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, I am all too familiar with CAHSEE. Our district is comprised of nearly 75 percent minorities, and I knew from experience that there was a lack of sufficient, available course work designed to help prepare these students for this high stakes test. Many of the administrators and teachers at Natomas had tried a series of interventions such as specific classes to target failing students, but none of the programs seemed refined enough to articulate the granular learning these struggling students required.

Last year, we had 57 seniors who had not yet passed the CASHEE test in their previous two years. A hard truth was staring me straight in the face: Not only did my district have a growing number of seniors who were really struggling to pass the CASHEE, but in the months prior to the tests they were also not exhibiting the expertise required in the mandatory subjects.

Our administrators and teachers have a strong commitment to success for all students. But admittedly we were not seeing the kind of student achievement we demanded. Even worse, not only were our students losing traction on their skill development and mastery, but they were losing hope of ever receiving a high school diploma.

I knew fundamentally what we needed was a learning solution that would target instruction, provide effective intervention and individualized learning paths to struggling students, and lead to overall improved student achievement across the board. We talked to other districts with similar problems, did some research, and decided upon a mentoring and intervention program called HOSTS - for Helping One Student to Succeed.


Based on 35 years of success, the HOSTS Mentoring and Intervention Solution provides research-based instructional strategies and interventions to assist teachers and community volunteers in effectively helping students who are struggling in the regular classroom. The intervention programs cover many areas, including reading and early literacy, math, English language development, special education, and structured mentoring.

We began the program by linking the district's existing curriculum resources with the HOSTS system. What followed was the recruitment of some 96 mentors—community volunteers, coupled with two trained teacher coordinators. Using comprehensive formative assessment as well as teacher input, the system generated individualized learning paths for each of the 57 students, integrating the district's curriculum resources – including textbooks, software and district content.

Beginning in May, our students met two hours a week for five weeks with either their mentor or teacher coordinator, and sometimes with both. During this time they worked from a customized plan that had been developed down to a precise level of detail for their individual needs. For some the focus was on Math – specifically Algebra. For others it was critical writing skills.

In June, the first results were in. Using only the mentoring and intervention program, 25 out of 57 seniors passed the CAHSEE after just 10 hours of instruction.

I believe the success of this program lies in its ability to provide precise detail of what a student knows and doesn't know – followed by the creation of a plan to help them bridge that gap.

Obviously, we were all elated — teachers, mentors, administrator and especially the students. They were enjoying the sweet taste of success - many for the first time in their young lives.

The successful outcome of passing the CAHSEE wasn't the only benefit. Many of these students were now ready and anxious to enroll in state colleges and universities. They had gone from discouraged students to avid, excited learners.

This program has had an enormous impact on these student's lives forever.

Moving Forward

Based on this initial success, our district is implementing the complete HOSTS Learning solution in all of our schools this year. An instructional management system will tie formative assessment data and research-based best practices together with our existing curriculum resources to create customized learning paths for each student. In addition, our teachers are seeing examples of successful best practices and learning new ways to help students maximize achievement. It's a comprehensive approach that we know, based on our own experience, will make every student a winner.

About Natomas

The Natomas Unified School District (NUSD) located in Sacramento, California, currently serves over 11,000 students in its 16 traditional, charter and alternative education schools. Nearly 40 percent of our student population receives free or reduced fee lunches.

Our district offers pre-school for at-risk children; elementary and secondary talented and gifted programs; special education programs; advanced placement college courses; vocational and technical classes; school-to-career opportunities; as well as a variety of extra-curricular activities.

Email:Leslie Eicher