The state of California now requires all high school seniors to pass an “exit exam” in order to graduate. Or at least, it did–until the usual bunch of teachers’ union-backed “education activists” filed a lawsuit claiming that the exam requirement isn’t fair because some California high schools are better than others. And it looks as though a federal judge in Oakland, Calif. is about to agree with that flimsy ground.

Passing the exit exam sounds absurdly easy–all you have to do is be able to read at the 10th-grade level and solve 8th-grade math problems. As the outraged San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders writes:

“In this brave new world, if anyone tries to improve schools — and you can’t improve schools without raising standards — no matter how weak those standards are, some court likely will step in to quash the reform lest it hurt someone.

“As if ignorance doesn’t hurt children. Arturo Gonzalez, the attorney who wants to overthrow the exit exam requirement, has argued that the test isn’t fair because schools are not equal. Judge Robert Freedman of Alameda County Superior Court apparently agrees. The judge will issue a final ruling on Friday but already has said he is inclined to grant an injunction to allow seniors to graduate even if they failed the eighth-grade level math test, the 10th-grade level English test or both.

“It’s sad but true: All California schools are not equal. The question is: What do you do about the inequity? Do you sanction the inequity by allowing students to graduate ignorant? Is that fair? Or do you require that all graduates be able to read a news story and know what it means when a sale sign says ’25 percent off’?”

And as edu-blogger Kimberly Swygert writes for EduWonks:

“What’s more,…there are options in place for those students who fail the exam….[S]tudents failing the exit exam can recieve further schooling and remedial instruction until they pass (up to age 22), and are free to obtain diploma alternatives. Why, one wonders, wouldn’t this be good enough for those filing the lawsuits? Isn’t additional schooling a better choice than a worthless piece of paper? Isn’t the point of the diploma to demonstrate that the student receiving it has earned the knowledge consistent with it?”

One of the ironies of the lawsuit is that while it was pending, four of the 10 students named as plaintiffs–all seeking an injunction against being required to pass the test–actually took the test and managed to pass it. And since the test requirement went into operation, there has also been a jump of five percentage points (to 12 percent from 7 percent) of California schools earning top scores on the state’s schools performance test.

As the Chronicle’s Saunders writes:

“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.”