While incoming seniors around the state heaved a sigh of relief at the news that the senior exit exam has been delayed until 2006, administrators' brows furrowed.

"How do we rate this year's juniors and seniors without a test?" they asked.

That is the question Sonora High School District Trustees will discuss tomorrow night.

Trustees will look at two options: Reinstating the Hart Bill assessment test used before the exit exam came on the scene five years ago, or not testing juniors and seniors at all.

But Superintendent Rob Gaskill said there are other options.

"I think there are more than two," he said.

"I think another option would be to look at letter grades. Maybe students are required to earn a C or higher in algebra or English."

High schools across the state face the same dilemma since the California Department of Education in July delayed the exit exam until 2006. High failure rates in California and a number of problems testing special education and English-learning students were cited.

"I think the state was looking into this big, dark hole of many, many students who would not graduate," Gaskill said.

But changing the rules with very little warning and with few other options in place, was in bad form, Gaskill added.

"There's another concern I have about changing rules on students midstream," he said. "It's the state that changed the rules. One part of me wonders if we should try to institute anything at this point in time for juniors and seniors."

The state has been uncharacteristically silent about what to do in the absence of a standardized test, but one edict don't use the exit exam until 2006 to test juniors and seniors has made matters more difficult for high schools.

The old Hart Bill tests would have to be updated to current standards to be a useful indication of students' performance, Gaskill said.

"The Hart Bill isn't even an easy solution because it's somewhat outdated," Gaskill said. "We've really been working toward standards for the exit exam."