updated 5/24/2006 6:15:41 PM ET 2006-05-24T22:15:41

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated the state's high school exit exam as a graduation requirement for this year's senior class, leaving 47,000 high school students who failed the test in danger of not graduating.

The high court ordered a state appeals court to hold hearings in the case, but with schools ready to hold commencement ceremonies as soon as this weekend, a resolution appeared unlikely before then.

This year's class was the first in which passing the test of 10th grade English and eighth grade math and algebra was required for graduation.

A group of students sued the state, claiming the test discriminates against low-income and minority students. On May 12, Alameda Superior Court Judge Robert Freedman invalidated the graduation requirement for 2006 graduates, finding that it discriminates against poor students and those who are learning English.

The high court stayed that ruling and ordered the 1st District Court of Appeal to hear the case, but did not say when — leaving students who failed the test in a state of legal limbo.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell planned a news conference later Wednesday to respond to the decision.

The plaintiffs' lawyers were not immediately available for comment.

After Freedman threw out the graduation requirement for this year's seniors, O'Connell immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, demanding that the decision be promptly reversed ahead of looming commencement ceremonies.

Rare move by high court
The high court rarely decides a case before an appeals court hears it, but the justices said they were not convinced that Freedman ruled correctly.

"At this juncture this court is not persuaded that the relief granted by the trial court's preliminary injunction ... would be an appropriate remedy," five of the seven justices wrote.

Lawyers for the state wrote in their appeal that Freedman's decision was an illegal intrusion into the lawmaking branch of state government. O'Connell wanted the decision overturned to "further society's interest in ensuring that students demonstrate minimal academic proficiency in order to receive a high school diploma."

O'Connell said students who fail the test can still get further remedial instruction and take the test again.

The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Arturo Gonzalez, told the justices in a filing that the students should not be punished for the education system's shortcomings.

"As of the start of the current academic year, fewer than half of California high schools had taught all of the course material that is tested on the exam," Gonzalez wrote.

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