Debra J. Saunders

State schools chief Jack O'Connell, who wrote the exit-exam bill as a state senator, is fighting the lawsuit. He believes that, by prompting underachieving students to study harder, the test is responsible for the jump in the number of high schools -- 12 percent this year, compared to 7 percent last year -- that scored 800 or above on the state's 1,000-point Academic Performance Index.

Indeed, four of the 10 student plaintiffs have passed the exit exam since the lawsuit was filed. The exam is working. But it won't work if the courts undermine it.

I feel for students who have failed the exam -- whether it is because they haven't kept up with their coursework or are new to the English language.

Still, if they attend a school that does not grant certificates of completion (for those who pass their coursework but flunk the exit exam), they can earn a GED or attend adult education. Teens may not like that alternative, but at least they will know, when they receive their diplomas, that they earned them.

Just as Freedman and Gonzalez know that they earned their positions on the bench and in the bar. I should note that the state has argued that an injunction would apply only to the six remaining plaintiffs. It's hard to imagine that a judge who feels he can upend years of legislating, tinkering and test-taking will be satisfied with an injunction for six students.

At issue is the larger question of whether schools exist to make children learn or to make children feel good. If Freedman decides that undereducated students can graduate because it's not fair to deny them a diploma, Sacramento might as well give up on improving the schools.

The state might as well save itself some money, and issue an edict that says poor and immigrant students shouldn't have to learn math and English -- because it is not fair to expect them to achieve.

Debra J. Saunders

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