About the Exam
The California High School Proficiency Exam (abbreviated CHSPE) is a high school exit exam in California that allows any person at the age of 16 or over to apply to take the exam. Passing the CHSPE essentially offers an equivalent to a high school diploma, and legally has as much value as a diploma in any part of the country. Completing the exam does not allow you to leave school upon passing it, though if passed, the taker's parents' may pull their minor out of school.
The CHSPE provides a bit of a more practical alternative to the GED, in more ways than one. The taker does not have to drop out of school in order to take the exam. In addition, the CHSPE carries much less stigma than a GED.
The Exam Itself
The exam is quite basic. It only consists of two sections: English/Language Arts and Mathematics. The English section is made up of two subtests: Reading and Language, which includes a writing task. The Mathematics section, however, stands alone with no subtests.
According to the CHSPE website, the English Reading subtest consists of 54 reading comprehension questions and 30 vocabulary questions, all multiple choice. The English Language subtest involves mechanics and expressions. The Language subtest consists of 48 multiple choice questions and a writing task, which must be completed in the same testing session; in other words. The writing task is a persuasive essay which is scored by writing proficiency, not by knowledge of the subject in question.
The CHSPE website also says that the Mathematics section consists of 50 questions. These questions determine your proficiency in basic Algebra and Geometry, including a bit about probability and statistics.
Each testing session lasts about 3 and a half hours, and neither section (and in the case of the English section, subtests) is timed. This means that the test taker can spend as much time they want, within the testing section, on any section (and subtest) the taker wishes.
Using the Certificate of High School Proficiency to Your Advantage
Once you have passed the exam, you will be mailed a certificate of high school proficiency, which, under California Education Code, section 48412, subsection a), is the legal equivalent to a high school diploma, and must be treated as such in all matters where a high school diploma is involved. If all you want to do is leave school, you're not done yet; you still need to exempt yourself from compulsory education. If you want to do that, and get a job, just refer to the certificate and the legal equivalency of a high school diploma.
To exempt yourself from compulsory education, you must obtain a form from your school, as specified by California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Article 1, Section 11522, which describes your rights to exemption from compulsory education and re-enrollment (like you'd want that), and includes the date that your certificate was issued, the date your parent have signed it, and a signature from a school official that has verified the authenticity of your parent's signature. If your school fails to produce such a form, it is violating state law (though this may not apply to private schools).
If your school has failed to inform you and your classmates about this exam, assuming that it's a public school, it is violating California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Article 1, Section 11523, and it is ultimately the responsibility of your principal to issue announcements regarding this exam (before the Fall testing date). A school can be legally challenged if such is the case. Vague references to the CHSPE don't count.