State law, enacted in 1999, authorized the development of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which students in California public schools would have to pass to earn a high school diploma. Beginning with the 2005-06 school year, all California public school students are required to pass the CAHSEE and meet all other state and local requirements to earn a high school diploma.

The purpose of the CAHSEE is to improve student achievement in high school and to help ensure that students who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics.

The CAHSEE is a two-part exam covering language arts and mathematics.

Mathematics subjects include basic arithmetic through understanding of basic algebra. Students must demonstrate knowledge in probability, measurement, basic geometry, basic statistics, number sense and first year high school algebra skills.

The second part of the CAHSEE is Language Arts. Students must be able to demonstrate reading comprehension, knowledge of grammar conventions, and writing skills. Writing skills are shown in essay format, and the student must usually need to know how to write a basic five-paragraph essay with logical flow, fairly good grammar, punctuation, and spelling.