Dumbing down the exit exam

When California brings back the graduation exam requirement, the test will be easier. But don’t call it “dumbing down” the test. Because you’ll hurt the board of ed’s feelings.

Missing next year will be questions about data analysis that required students to calculate the lower quartile, median and maximum of a data set.

The board also announced that students will face more questions about computing averages — a skill taught in 6th grade — and using estimation to check whether results are reasonable, which is a 7th-grade math standard.

English questions will be pared, deleting a requirement that students write a bibliography of reference materials, develop research questions and methods to “elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources” and having students demonstrate proper manuscript formats, such as title page, spacing and margins.

The test will take two days instead of three. Students will have multiple chances to pass, and the minimum score will remain 60 percent for English, 55 percent for math.

I wish they’d use the state exams, which now measure state standards, instead of writing a whole new test. I guess they don’t want to admit that the standard for graduation is basic mastery of eighth or ninth grade skills.

About Joanne


  1. The math score in being proposed is 3% lower than our current passing score for math in Nevada (58%), and this is after the legislature lowered it from 61% (how someone can say that getting 55% right on an examination is passing, is beyond me).

    More Dumbing Down (sigh).

  2. Just to be snarfy —
    Assume the math test is multiple-choice, with 4 possible answers to each of 100 questions. This means a student who knows the answers to just 40 of the 100 questions will probably still luck out, getting 15 of the remaining 60 questions correct just by pure chance. Voila! A passing score for knowing just 40% of the answers.

  3. Yes, Two Tone. The test is multiple choice with only four answers per question. And yet it was estimated that 20 percent of students would not be able to earn a 55 percent with eight tries.

  4. Could be if the test preparers don’t know math any better than the test takers, all four answers may be wrong on some (a lot) of the questions…

  5. Multiple choice w/4 possible choices, 50% question eliminated by analysis, so you have a
    one in two chance of guessing correct.

    I would say if the students cannot pass this type of exam in 8 tries, they don’t deserve a high school diploma (sounds heartless, but in the private sector, failure isn’t rewarded, unless you happen to be a CEO these days) 🙂

  6. The desire to tighten up of the requirements for a high school diploma are admirable, but it’s also worth considering the consequences.

    Given that without a HS diploma, you cannot usually receive any form of post-secondary education (community college, apprenticeship, etc.), making the tests much harder would essentially condemn a substantial fraction of the population to eternal poverty.

    You can argue that lots of jobs don’t require all the skills obtained in a rigorous HS curriculum, and you would be right. But society essentially has assumed that having a pulse = HS diploma. Until that changes, denying people a diploma is to make them economic dead men walking…

    Perhaps a more humane solution is to force everyone to take the test, but not make graduation dependent on it. Organizations that truly require HS, but not college can actually then examine the results. Organizations that use the HS diploma as a pulse test can ignore the grade achieved on the test.

  7. Tom — there is the GED.

  8. Now, now, we all know California wants to protect the self-esteem of its students at all costs, and if “enhancing” the test so that one doesn’t really need a high school education in order to pass it and qualify for a high school diploma, so be it. Faced with scary statistics about the performance of their students on tests of very basic math and reading skills, the California education officials have chosen to shut their eyes and run the other way.

    I particularly like this one comment by board member Ms. Katzman:

    “The changes were made after careful review, she said, and will test what the high school exam aims to measure: how well students are mastering basic concepts of math and English.”

    Actually, it measures whether high school students in California can demonstrate, over eight attempts, that they’ve mastered between 55% and 60% of the sixth- to ninth-grade material now on the exam. But I think Ms. Katzman’s way of phrasing it is so much more polite than mine. And next to self-esteem, isn’t politeness the most important thing?

  9. Heh, leave it to Kimberly to say the good stuff, however, if you get rid of the self-esteem bull****, and concentrate on making students work their tails off, they will succeed.

    A student inside knows there is a difference between earning a grade and having one given to you (the first example says I can do the work, the second says, well, I feel sorry for you, so here is a nice grade anyways).

    A 55% score to pass any exam == fail in my grade book, but I guess we can’t have the students feeling bad (growl).


  10. In response to Tom West – actually, in California, you are eligible to enroll in a community college if you are over 18, even if you do not have a high school diploma! (I actually think this is a good thing). So, not being able to pass the graduation test does not lock people out of higher education, if they really want it. (On the other hand, everybody really should be able to pass this thing – I think it’s shameful that so many students can’t.)

    – Olivia

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If only life scored as easy.

  12. Well, the same rule applies in Nevada, and it is possible to earn a(n) associate’s degree without having graduated from high school.

    The problem then becomes one of remediation, as fully 1/3 of entering freshmen to college have to take at least one (or more) course(s) in english, math, etc. to make up for a lack of preparation in high school coursework.

    Many students don’t understand that the basic requirements to graduate from high school is often NOT enough to succeed in college, unless much harder (read: more homework and study) is taken in high school.

    When I attended high school, there was a large difference between students who wanted to graduate and those who wanted to go to college afterwards, and it was recommended at the time to have at least 3 to 4 years of english (inc. composition, literature, etc), 3 years of math (thru algebra II/trig), and 3 years of science (2 of which were lab sciences, and one of them should be chemistry or physics).

  13. My sister taught remedial English to community college students. They were “in” college, but weren’t allowed to take academic or vocational classes till they could pass her class, which taught 8th grade skills. The immigrant students always improved. Her problem was with the students who’d managed to earn a U.S. high school diploma without mastering 8th grade English skills. After years of vegetating in school, they didn’t understand how to function as students. They thought learning was the teacher’s responsibility. The immigrants, who knew how to work in school, were passing them by.

  14. Joanne,

    Sounds fair to me, as students shouldn’t be allowed to take courses that count towards a degree until they had mastered all the basics (which is the way it should be, due to the fact that if you don’t have a basic understanding of math, english, science, social studies, government, etc., how can you be expected to handle harder coursework and pass it, short answer is that it’s impossible).

    As edtrust’s Kati Haycock has stated on more than a few occasions, the basic requirements for graduating from high school fall way short and have done so for years. If a student can’t be bothered to take 10 classes in math, science, and english, along with 2 or 3 in history/government, plus 2 or 3 years of phys. ed, and electives, they will have a very difficult time at a 4 year college (even with grade inflation).