Easy exit

High school graduation exams measure ninth and 10th grade skills concludes a study by Achieve Inc., a non-profit consortium. In other developed countries, the math skills on U.S. graduation exams often are taught in middle school. The New York Times reports:

The study found that the tests measured very basic material and skills, insufficient for success in university courses or in jobs paying salaries higher than the poverty level, currently about $18,000 for a family of four.

Yet, many high school students have trouble passing these exams. Achieve urges states not to water down the standards.

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  1. Bill Millan says:

    I am looking for an article contrasting the achievment of immigrant black K-12 students with American black students.

  2. Mad Scientist says:

    What is sacry is that the standards measure only the very basic items, yet the anti-standards crowd is still against them.

  3. How frightening. It reminds me of that old saw: When all else fails, lower your standards.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    God help us if Public Health standards are ever normed.

  5. On the other hand, as I point out on my site (www.precinct333.blogspot.com), the purpose of the test is to show minimum knowledge needed for graduation, not workplace readiness. Considering that the TAKS test here in Texas is given in 11th gradeto all students, one would not expect it to show readiness for university coursework. We have one of those — it is called the TASP, and is required to get into Texas colleges and universities at all levels.

  6. Various organizations have shown via studies that the typical high school exit exam at best measures no more than 10th grade content (and in most cases, less than that). I’m not surprised that most exit exams test knowledge which is middle school in other countries.

    In 2003, Nevada legislators lowered the passing score for the math exam (usually the section most students have trouble passing) from 304/500 to 290/500, so that 1300 plus students who would NOT have earned a diploma were given one.

    In 2004, the legislature isn’t in session, so the score is now 293/500, and as a result, some 2200 12th graders won’t receive a diploma in Clark County, NV (19% of the class of 2004 here). I’ve also recently blasted a state legislator who is a liberal whiner over her stance that “it’s unfair to the kids?”

    How about it’s UNFAIR to the taxpayers who have to fund this excuse called public education. If you don’t have standards, you can’t hold people accountable (and last time I checked, high school students were people).


  7. i can so clearly remember taking the georgia high school graduation test, which had sections featuring mind-taxing questions like:

    987-23-6457 is:
    a) a phone number
    b) a social security number
    c) a zip code
    d) none of the above

    and this is an question from the _math_ section for pete’s sake. needless to say, there were protests by all the students that failed over and over and their parents about the difficulty of the test and its inherent bias.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps we require grads to pass the Turing test?

  9. Tim fromTexas says:

    It is said, reported, repeated, over and over, that the standards tested are too low. Before, there were no standards at all. Yes, the standards must be raised, however, they must and should be raised gradually ,that is to say, in proper increments as to reach the absolute highest level, agreed upon by the populus, by the the year 2011/12, when the 4th graders of this year should graduate. If the standards are set too high now, then the failure rates next year would be very high. Then, the wails would be so numerous and so loud they would be heard in Australia. Moreover, it would be tantamount to unjust and cruel punishment to those students taking the tests next year. Besides, it can be reasonably said,that we adults in this country have been asleep in this regard for a very long time, therefore, it can be said it’s not entirely the fault of these students,and that the greater portion of fault, if not all, is ours.

    To continue, the eventual academic level at which the graduates of 2011/12 will be tested, must be agreed upon somehow, in some form or fashion, by the greater majority of the parents and entities concerned along the way, for in getting there, other aspects, and hurdles inherent in a very-high-standards educational system will come to light.

    Since the academic achievements of our K-12 youth have been continually compared to the K-12 youth in other industrialized countries, correctly so, given the realities of today, and more specfically, since the prefered comparison, for the most part, is with the youth of European countries, it would seem a good idea, to look at in a general sense here, how they get their youth to high academic levels and more specifically, for the sake of brevity here, how one country, Germany, accomplishes it. I choose Germany here because I think it can be agreed, for the most part, that they have done a very decent job so far in educating their youth. Also, I choose the German system, because it is the European system with which I am most familiar.

    A short disclaimer here, if I may, to calm nerves, so to speak. I personally do not advocate all of the methods the Germans apply, and neither do a good portion of the Germans themselves. Like any system the German system has flaws,but since they do a good job and we do use the accompishments of their youth in comparisons, I think it wise to take a peek into their system. So, let’s have a go, shall we?

    The proper starting point here is to look at the very top of the German “k-12” system. At the top are the university preparatory schools, called gymnasiums. In order to to have the opportunity to go directly to university in the German system, the gymnasium student must have accomplished throughout 6 or 7 years of attendance, for they begin attendance at the age of 10 or 11, a very high grade average with increasing tendancy to higher levels as he/she progresses. Then he or she must pass their graduation exam called the “Abitur”. In order to have the best chance to attend university the first year after passing the “Abitur”, he or she must have passed it, making no mistake to only one mistake per core subject tested. So how does this happen and what is the path and procedure these students endure, so to speak.

    The German educational system is a class system, that is, the students that are accepted into a gymnasium, start with a group of fellow students at a class size which can be as numerous as 60 students, and they stay together as a class to the end with a good portion of them eliminated each year until each graduation class has been reduced to a size of anywhere between 12 to 16 students. To clarify the class system here a little more, since the students stay together, it’s the teachers who walk the halls from classroom to classroom.

    Students, that fail to measure up along the way, leave and finish their education at, shall we call them “lessor” schools, at this point, but I must say they have a very strict regimented system as well.

    So, obviously a very high attrition rate at any gymnasium occurs. Before going into a “brief” explanation as to how this attrition occurs, a short statement about the teachers at gymnasiums is appropriate. They must be university graduates and highly proficient in at least three core subject areas. The first year teacher must go through a strict year long, in house, in classroom, training program overseen on a hourly,and day to day basis by an assigned proven “master” teacher,and approved, before he/she can continue to the next year. Of course continued training and oberservation occurs,albeit to a lessor degree. In addition,the students themselves become a intregral part of teacher evaluation along the way, which I think, will become clear, after my aforementioned “brief” attempt at explaining the method by which the heavy attrition rate occurs.

    Simply put, to begin with, the attrition occurs through and by a strictly applied bell-curve grading system. The students in each class, each year, are pitted against one another so to speak, to find the best of the best. The beginning classes, which are called The Underlings and numbered accordingly as to how many Underling classes there are, are given no more than five difficult tests a year in each subject, from which the grades are solely assessed. The number of tests decrease every other year to where the graduating classes called the Arbiturintens,take only one or two exams before they take the “Abitur” itself. Naturally, there are practice exams and tons of homework all along the way, in each subject which can be as many as 10 subjects a year. Needless to say, the subjects are alternated day to day and the students attend school six days a week. Each day the time at school begins at most gymnasiums at 7;45 A.M and ends at 12:30 P.M., for the students then return home for lunch and then hit the books and homework for at least the next four to five hours. This time is definitely needed for study in order to have a chance to survive all the way.

    Now, as to the tests themselves and the bell curve grading, it goes in a general sense like this: The test is given and the bell-curve is strictly applied as follows. In a class, lets say, an Underling class of say 50 students, if 3 students make only one mistake those receive the “1” or “A”, then if another, say 5 students make 2-3 mistakes, they receive a “2” or “B”, then, of course, if the exam is what is accepted as a valid exam, another say 20 students should fall into the “3-C” range and another 7 into the “4-D” range and another 10 into the “5-F” range and the remaining 5 into the “6-F-” range. Of course, one can calculate that this would not make a perfect “bell”, however, the system there , for the most part, goes with the idea that a valid exam will fail each time at least a third of the class. This, of course, decreases to a degree, at each level, but it is easy to see how the graduating classes reach the level of 12 to 16 or so students.

    The “Abitur” itself as one could imagine is extremely difficult. In each core subject,the students must pass a written exam and an oral exam. The oral exams are taken with the entire faculty present, with the subject chairman and generally two other subject teachers posing the questions and then assessing the grade. The written exams take aprox. 4 to 5 hours, of course depending on the individual student, and the orals take aprox. 45 minutes. To top the long gruelling day off, the student knows that if he/she makes a mistake, or makes more than one mistake, he/she will not make that coveted “1”.

    Needless to say I did not cover all things, methods, causes and effects, ramifications, and so forth of the German system. It is just a peek.

    Yes, it is clear, I think, why so many people here and in Germany itself, argue that the system is way too harsh. However, it seems, most of us, to some degree or another, believe ours is not harsh enough. How harsh should an educational system for our youth be? That is a complex and most difficult question, which , one would think, an answer to which must be agreed upon, and the sooner the better, for everyone does agree, that our youth need at least a system that goes from K-12 in an orderly fashion, that educates them.

    To close, I’m sure there are some aspects to the German system that have changed by now, for it has been quite a while since I taught in the system and some years since my last visit. However, knowing the Germans, I doubt much has changed, but perhaps.

  10. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Sure, raise the standards gradually. What difference could one more illiterate generation make? With the increasing life spans, there will still be enough folk who know how to add a column of figures until a new generation with that talent is raised up.

  11. Tim,

    You have missed the reports of widening displeasure with the German system. Parents, students, and university faculty are taking notice of the poor functioning of the German school system.

    Also, there is increasing concern over the bias in selection of students for gymnasium. Students from poorer (gasp) areas and schools are not placing in the gymnasiums. If all schools are publicly funded, then why aren’t lower schools placing students in the competitive prep schools at least in porportion?

    Because, the German system is TOO EXPENSIVE to operate as designed (especially with all of the social programs of Germany). Also,the system is far too dependent on parental guidance of each child. It simply would not work in the US.

    It may be helpful to look at other cultures for inspriation, but often the adaptations necessary for translation into the host culture will negate any effect.

  12. Tim from Texas says:

    Sid, what you said about the Germans and their system, in many respects is correct, and I did mention that there is much argument and disatisfaction among Germans with their system. In addition, I did not imply that such a system or similar system could work here, nor did I intend for it to be inspirational.

    It could be that you have misunderstood my reason and purpose for the post. It could be that I did not make it clear. Since it was my post, I will have to accept the latter.

    I was trying to provoke thought about high to very high standards and the ramifications,
    pitfalls, and problems that come with them. Now, I think, we all have realized the ramifications,pitfalls, and problems that come with no standards or low standards.

    Since there seems to be somewhat of a concensus that the “bar”, so to speak, must be raised a considerable number of notches, I think it’s time to take a look at other countries sytems to possibly acquire additional insight.

  13. Rita C. says:

    Tim, I’ve often thought that we should have an honorable out at 10th grade. My bias is that I teach mostly 10th graders, and this is the age when they tend to sink or swim academically. I had 6 drop-outs this year. Part of me says ouch to that, and part of me says perhaps if they’d been given an option to hit a goal for a 10th grade exit/graduation of some sort, they’d be better off. A student who loses interest in 10th grade becomes the professional hall walker in 11th and rarely graduates with a diploma. He or she just hangs around for a couple of years with the peer group then disapears. I think if we could offer a 10th grade diploma — with an exit examination that tested basic skills — we could make these kids at least minimally employable.

  14. Tim from Texas says:

    Rita, I agree. I have 14 years of teaching 10th graders notched into my teaching belt. Other avenues for those students must be provided. Well thought out, well planned, well funded, varied avenues or chains of events should be provided for our youth by our society via our system of education, and other entities as well. Moreover, providing them should be high priority.

    Presently, our systems provide our youth, in actuality, only one scenario, but excellent systems provide more. Sure, there are other avenues provided, if one can call a few very poorly funded “token” avenues, which are considered for scrapping on a yearly basis, providing other avenues.

    All the children and youth need and desire guidance via well planned avenues, scenarios and chains of events to follow with purpose. One or even two do not meet the needs of our youth nor our society. They feel it, they know it, and the absence of them is a core cause of behavior problems in and out of school.

    In addition, it can be easily argued, that all youth should be readied and enabled to “face the real world” to a good and workable extent, if necessary, that is to say, in the event the emergency arises, by the age of 12,certainly, beyond a doubt, by age 14.

    Achieving such a goal will not be easy by any means, for entrenched entities, concerns and revered institutions exist which have vested interests, some intentional and some not, in status quo. In addition, there are old arguments, which bring all sorts of conditions into the considerations. Not to worry, so to speak, realities of the situation will now reveal the legless, and the ones with legs or wobbly legs can be worked through and/or accommodated.

    At any rate, some sort of change or overhall along these lines is needed and must be achieved.

  15. Steve LaBonne says:

    Rita is very correct, and I will add (pretty much in line with what Tim said) that we should be increasing, not eliminating, serious, rigorous vocational-educational oppportunities for non-academically-oriented kids that age, which might actually make it worthwhile for some of them to stay in school, and give them better futures into the bargain.

  16. The only problem with doing this is that most vocational tracks require a solid grounding in the basics of math, reading, writing, and basic science.

    The automotive technician today needs to know critical thinking, problem solving, and troubleshooting skills just like a person working in high-tech (the avg. new car these days has at least 20 computer modules in it).

    The electrician needs a solid grounding in math, including basic algebra in order to do their job properly (i.e. – the moment you don’t respect this, it kills you).

    The concept of students knowing LESS these days simply will NOT cut it. I’m a firm believer that a student should have a grounding in math through at least geometry, science (earth science and biology), english (1st/2nd year english, composition, literature), history (world, US, and US Gov’t), throw in phys ed, and you have plenty of credits left over for electives.

  17. Steve LaBonne says:

    Agreeed, but I really think some of those students who are slackers now (when they can’t see the realevance of their classes)could be seduced by a good vocational program into understanding the importance of studying those subjects. I think even more of them could be “saved” if their elementary schools had done a better job of teaching reading and math, but that’s a different discussion…

  18. Steve LaBonne says:

    Speaking of vocational courses, I wish I’d learned to type decently. 🙁

  19. Exactly, Steve: when kids see the *point*, they’ll tend to work harder. Now, there are some kids who aren’t going to work no matter what, but I think a certain percentage will buckle down and focus if it means not spending another two years taking classwork they’re not interested in and see as completely pointless and irrelevant. Then put them in an apprenticeship program and they can take continuing education courses as needed. Let’s honor these kids by giving them what they need, not what we think they should have. A mechanic does not have to spend a year in Brit Lit. If he or she can read at 11/12 grade level and write a coherent and reasonably correct composition, then he/she can read well enough for the job. If he/she decides to go white collar later on, the community college system is ready, willing, and able. And if he/she wants to read The Canterbury Tales, a copy is available at any library or bookstore.

  20. Tim from Texas says:

    Yes, to the above, and those youth will handle a stiff-strict-regimented vocational program, agreed some won’t, but the ones that do, will feel much better about themselves, and will also feel, they have a real stake in country and their community. The youth that don’t, can go into a “lesser” vocational school, so to speak, and the same will happen for them. It should continue
    that way until all have been provided an avenue, a license of some sort, to be proud also. Then, there will be those that won’t “cut any mustard”, when it’s obvious they could have. Those, then can be summarily thumped by society, without guilt.