Exit exam wobbles

California Democrats, who onced backed a state graduation exam, now want to water down or repeal the requirement, writes Dan Weintraub in the Sacramento Bee.

The general thrust of their argument is that it’s just not fair to hold students accountable, to make their diploma mean something more than just a certificate proving that they attended school for 12 years. Especially if the schools they attended were not perfect, or were not funded as well as some would like.

But the schools will never be perfect, and there will always be some who argue that they need more money. What opponents of the exit exam are missing is that the test itself has been crucial in bringing about the very changes needed to help the poor and disadvantaged students who are most at risk of failing.

Fears that the test would lead to more kids dropping out of school proved unfounded. And a survey of high school principals found that more of them are working with middle schools to better prepare students for high school, more of them are in contact with parents, the number of schools offering demanding courses has nearly tripled, and far more principals are ensuring that students take demanding courses from the time they enter high school.

The exam’s opponents fear the stigma that will be attached to any student who, failing the test, leaves school without a diploma. Maybe they should worry as much about the prospects for students who for far too long have been leaving high schools with a diploma but without the basic math and English skills they need to survive in society.

Students need more than a diploma; they need an education.

About Joanne


  1. Also, keep in mind that California’s high school exit exam (CAHSEE) just barely tests skills and contents at the 9th grade level. Most of the test is geared at middle-school level skills.

  2. BadaBing says:

    California Democrats

    This gaggle of fools
    Should be seated on stools
    With dunce caps for crowns
    Like inveterate class clowns
    Who make learning a function
    Of their moral dysfunction.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps if we made education illegal?

  4. Not FAIR?

    Fair, in education, means the equal opportunity to learn — it does not guarantee you will. Kids need to be taught (by parents) that they will reap what they sow. Today, kids expectations far exceed effort. “Oh, mommy, I feel so bad I did not get an award for skipping class and not doing my home work — LETS SUE!”

    Bad school? Oh, my — just whose fault is that? I know that like bad cops, there are bad teachers, but it is neither of those (generally) hard working group’s fault. It’s the kids and the parents…

  5. “Students need more than a diploma; they need an education.”

    Wait – there’s a difference? =)

    A friend called me yesterday to talk about “diploma mills” like Univ. of Phoenix Online &c. By the end of the conversation we both thought that one could make a strong case that many, many instutitions – secondary and post-secondary, brick and mortar and online – confer certificates that show one has a) attended, b) tried [maybe?], and c) paid one’s tuition. I know this phenomenon is not news to anyone, including myself, but I really had hoped that the arrival of online mills [and the sometimes embarassing non-education they provide] would spur high schools, especially those with strong state bodies, to approach with more respect and seriousness their academic standards.

    Weintraub’s point about how exam opponents worry about the stigma of not receiving a diploma is one I heard over and over in New York as state Regents req’s were modified. Funny how they tend not to worry about the stigma of *not having a command of basic skills.*

    Excellent job, Joanne.

  6. When teachers quit complaining about the parents, then the parents may think of teachers as the professionals the teachers think they are.

    When teachers quit complaining about the students, then the students may show some respect.

    Bad schools are due to the administrators and teachers who try and blame everyone else for the bad schools.

  7. Faith,

    I think we’d all agree that there’s more to it than that, but you’re right that this is another case of more complaining and finger-pointing than real problem solving.


  8. SuperSub says:

    Oh nonono… trust me, it is, in large part, the parents. One 7th grade student who has done practically no work since the beginning of the school year, entertains himself by trying to antagonize the teacher, yet has shown himself to be smart enough to do quite well, is going on a 2 week vacation overseas with his parents. The same parents, that is, who have a habit of showing up at school functions drunk.
    Then there’s a student who is one of the nicest kids in the school, yet has no opportunity to do homework (even on weekends) because his father encourages him to go fishing with him every weekend and to other activities at night.
    Then there’s the student who brought her mother’s marijuana in to sell in school.
    Students need to accept authority figures to function in school, and they should learn this by the end of elementary school. Unfortunately, parenting as a whole has gotten worse, the students don’t respect the teacher’s authority, and teachers are finding themselves limited even more in what they can do to reprimand students.

  9. Yes, I agree – I wasn’t suggesting otherwise. I think Joanne’s site and many others provide solid evidence that there are a variety of very large, complex issues that need work: teaching, parenting, administration, etc. and the morals and attitudes that go along with them. Just reminding myself to keep a broad perspective!

    And sweet Christ, what are those parents thinking? Thank you for the horror stories. It’s a rare treat when I can laugh, cry, and want to vomit in a span of 38 seconds. =)

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    BTW – the rational response to “I can’t do the job” is to find someone else. The rational response to “no one can do the job” is “then there’s no point in paying someone to try.”

    I’ve no doubt that bad parents bear considerable blame, but it’s both wrong and counterproductive to argue that teachers can’t do better. Oh wait, it’s only counterproductive if you want more support for public schools. If you’re trying to get them shut down, keep arguing that it’s all parents’ fault.

  11. Faith’s claim is ludicrous.

    Teachers (and moreso administrators) will fear advocating “too much” discipline, or “too rigorous” standards mainly out of fear of parental backlash. Why else would they do so?

    Districts fear being sued by even one irate parent (due to cost), and that fear translates to policy, unfortunately. The chaos that is slowly taking over schools is largely one of parents’ own making. Yes, unions and crummy teachers have their share of the blame, but parents standing up to those is largely irrelevant to the “school atmosphere bedlam” discussion.

  12. SiliconValleySteve says:

    Teachers have long had a quaint name for how to qualify for a high school diploma by social promotion.

    It’s called “seat time.”

    It seems to have an enduring charm to democratic legistlators. They don’t understand that a diploma is only worth as much as it requires. If “seat time” is all that it requires, that’s not much.

    There is no such thing as a free lunch. Democrats persist in believing in that free lunch which is why California is on the verge of bancruptcy and its schools are a joke. What they need to learn is what the economist Herb Stein said:”While there is no such thing as a free lunch, there are many lunches worth paying for.”

  13. Well there ya go.

    Teachers and administrators would love to have more discipline and higher standards but parents don’t want more discipline and higher standards. What parent wouldn’t want their kid to spend thirteen years in a chaotic, dangerous public education system so they can graduate illiterate, innumerate and generally ignorant?

    I’m sure that getting paid for doing a job for which there is little in the way of standards and nothing in the way of accountability doesn’t figure into the resistance of the entire public education establishment to any measure of accountability. Of course not. For the rest of the human race that would be a pretty sweet deal but that sort of self-interest couldn’t apply in this case.

  14. The teachers are always complaining about parents and students. That makes it quite difficult to support teachers and schools. It makes my voting choice easy when the school district wants to up my property taxes. Since I’m a parent and it’s my fault for how bad the teachers have it, I vote no.

    When my oldest son was in public school, through part of the fifth grade; I was told by his teachers, that he was a well-behaved child and an excellent student. I was told he was doing fifth grade math in fourth grade. Funny, when I started schooling him at home, I had to start him in third grade math. Mmm…his manners counted for the teachers, but they didn’t count him for an education.

    I don’t feel my claim is ludicrous, when I read and hear of elementary students being handcuffed and arrested. I haven’t seen or heard of too rigorous standards…all I’ve heard of is watering down the standards. That’s what this thread is about. I’m interested in reading about some of the schools that were sued and what the settlements were. Could you point me to some links?

    As a parent, I want a higher standard, which is why I teach my children. I’ve also taught them that they are the author of their own education.

  15. The voices are calling again, allen?

    It only takes one parent (but it’s usually a few) to file suit over some silly/trivial matter. Or the mere threat. The district doesn’t want — or can’t — cope w/the costs. As a result, well, I’ve already said what the results are. The majority of parents who do care (ignore the voices, allen) suffer as a result. It’s quite a simple formula, actually.

    At least, unlike Faith, I don’t place all the “blame” in one basket for lowering standards and disintegrating discipline. But I do believe in what I said. Ultimately, isn’t the public in charge of public schools anyway?

    And Faith, I can sympathize with your experience w/lemon teachers. That doesn’t mean you should take an absolutist position on the matter. You say your son was doing 5th grade math in 4th grade, but you at home realized he was at 3rd grade level. Was this just a case of teachers just out and out lying to you, or were the grade standards varied depending on what math publisher you utilized?

    And you’re right about watered down standards — I said that districts fear too high a standard b/c the usual suspects will cry foul when certain groups fail to meet it (the “gap,” to name one) and/or those who claim some sort of “disability,” et. al.

    I can tell you my district this year alone has forgone legal proceedings for kids that most definitely should be suspended for quite a length of time, put in an alternative school or expelled b/c of fear of protracted legal cost and/or further lawsuits. Hence, these kids remain in the general school setting, the catalyst for continuing mayhem.

    The omniscience of those like allen notwithstanding, there are those who teach in public schools that share traditional values and are working w/in the system to make sensible and rational changes. It may not be evident in your area (yet), but like I said — public schools are ultimately controlled by … the public.

  16. Forgot to “preview,” natch.

    Correction: not my district in the 5th parag., but a district (near me). (Wouldn’t surprise me, though, if mine did the same.)

  17. One more tidbit just to be clear: the vast majority of parents, certainly, are not guffawed at by teachers. I hope the reverse is true.

  18. Hube wrote:

    The voices are calling again, allen?

    Yeah, and what they’re saying is, “that Hube’s probably as good a teacher as he is a psychiatrist and probably has the same opinion of his skills in both areas”.

    What a crock. One parent’ll stampede a whole school district? You really are loathsome. I could introduce you to a couple who both happen to be teachers – you know, the people who are inside the system and liable to be pretty knowledgeable about what is and isn’t required by the law – and they had to take the school district their son goes to to court force the district to do what the law plainly requires. You think that school district was filled with trembling bureaucrats?

    Ultimately, isn’t the public in charge of public schools anyway?

    Oooh, you’re so deep.

    You think maybe the public, who’s ultimately in charge thinks a 30% illiteracy rate is just peachy? How a 70% dropout rate? That must be right on the public’s “A” list as well, hey teach?

    I said that districts fear too high a standard

    It must be a pretty terrifying prospect then because I’ve never heard of a school district that’s complained that the standards are too low. Interestingly, I’ve never heard of a teacher’s union going out on strike because standards were too low either. You think maybe there’s some common element working here?

    Let me sketch it out for you from my perch of omniscience, koolaid-drinker.

    High standards are tough to meet. Low standards are easy to meet. No standards….well, maybe you can take some time out from spelling instruction and psychiatry to follow that trail of bread crumbs.

  19. Please, gentlemen, no personal abuse.

  20. If the public isn’t in charge of the public schools, allen, tell me — who is? Let’s see how “deep” your response is.

    Oh wait — how many school board meetings to you attend? Do you check out and analyze the candidates for your school board? Do YOU run for school board? Do you contact your local and state legislators about public education? Etc.

    Or, are you too busy in here spouting off about the very thing you yourself control?

    Can you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E?

  21. Decided to forego your second career as a psychiatrist, hey? I guess a word to the wise is sufficient.

    As I recall, you were drawing a dramatic picture of how school districts are driven to embrace low standards because of the terrifying prospect of lawsuits.

    Oh those administrators and teachers would love to turn out battalions of world-class scholars. They’re just too frightened to set the bar that high because if they don’t quite make it mobs of lawyers will sue the school district into oblivion and end the brilliant careers of those school officials brave enough to shoot for high standards.

    Let’s not bother to explore what your ridiculous excuse says about the comittment of these unnamed education professionals to their profession. Let’s instead see if there are any examples of your horrifying scenario.

    Well, any examples of schools setting high standards and then being sued into bankruptcy by disappointed parents? There’s got to be several examples for the mere notion of setting high standards to freeze the blood of caring, compassionate education professionals. And you’ve got to have some specific examples of school districts that rejected high standards out fear, right?

    I mean, you wouldn’t just dream up a ridiculous rationalization to avoid the unacceptable idea that education professionals – teachers, administrators, ed school profs – are acting in their own interest to the extent that they’d suborn their professional responsibilities, would you?

    Nah, I’m sure that’s not the case.

    Oh, does referring to someone as a H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E come under the heading of name-calling? Just curious.