High School Exit Exams: Worth the Fuss?
high school exit exams a good way to let us know how effective our schools are,
and how "college-ready" or "job-ready" our students are?
They've become a political football,
unfortunately, in the 24 states which require passage of a state-devised
standardized test to gain a high-school diploma. Especially in bellwether
states like Florida and Texas, where thousands of students, mostly minorities,
have lost out on diplomas because of failing the exams, the political
repercussions have been enormous. But there are still plenty of people who
think exit exams are a good accountability tool.
Perhaps because of a desire to "look good on
paper," state education officials might have been "dumbing down" their tests to
make sure most kids could pass them, throwing doubt on the validity of the
scores as published.
Of equal concern is that, if the tests are
indeed "dumbed down," then that's a reflection of the high school curriculum
being equally "dumbed down." A study by Achieve
Inc., of high-school graduation exams in Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts,
New Jersey, Ohio and Texas concluded that the math tests were over material
that students in other countries learned in seventh and eighth grades, and the
English content should have been covered by 10th grade or before.
an ongoing debate over whether the tests are good because they will force the
education system to be better, or bad, because the ones who will be punished
are the students who are already getting punished by receiving substandard
Those who favor exit exams say that they provide
a much-needed "brand" on a high school graduate that employers want, to demonstrate
that the graduate has basic skills and is capable of doing a good job. They say
that "social promotion" and easy graduation requirements, especially in
low-income areas, are making high school diplomas not worth the paper they're
printed on, in employers' eyes, so the tests are important to keep the quality
sufficient to guarantee employers a reasonably good employee.
Those who oppose them say that exit exams "push
out" students because they are too difficult, and cause them to drop out of
high school without a diploma. The New
York Times reported in 2003 that certain high schools were deliberating
forcing struggling students to drop out BEFORE the statewide test was given so
that the statistics would be better overall. There was even a boycott of
certain Florida industries called for by minority leaders in 2003 over the
Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
But a study of exit exams in Texas and Florida
by John Warren and Krista Jenkins of the University of Minnesota, and several
others, have shown that there is no link between having to pass an exit exam
and dropping out.
Researchers such as Jay P. Greene contend that exit exams are so
easy, they disqualify very few students, and in most places, you can take and
re-take the test several times to try to pass. The more times a student takes a
test, the more likely he or she is to eventually pass it out of sheer
familiarity and practice.
However, a small number of students across the
nation do fail to graduate because of exit exams, and so the exams are probably
providing a small amount of better quality control than we had before. It also
is impossible to say how many more students graduated than would have
otherwise, because of the presence of the exit exams, since the whole idea is
to encourage schools to do a better job teaching their students in order to do
well on the tests. Whenever teaching gets better, students are benefitted.
Homework: For a fascinating account of the controversial Texas
Assessment of Academic Skills, TAAS, see the book, Standardized
Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change
by Peter Sacks.