Exit exam doesn’t do much

California’s High School Exit Exam doesn’t raise performance or worsen the dropout rate, concludes a new study by Stanford’s Institute for Research on Education Policy

While graduation rates dropped significantly because of the exam, students didn’t drop out of school in despair as predicted. Nor did the high-stakes test motivate the schools and students to do better academically than before.

Researchers found that low-performing female and non-white students did worse on the exit exam than low-performing white males.  They blamed “stereotype threat,” the tendency for students to stress out when they face a negative stereotype about their ability, such as the belief that girls do worse in math.

However, bottom-quartile Asian-Americans have a lower pass rate than bottom-quartile whites. The prevailing stereotype about Asians is that they’re smart and ace tests.

On Ed Policy, Bill Evers raises that point and adds that the solution to negative stereotypes should be to teach students to meet the same expectations.

Without getting into my skepticism about some aspects of the stereotype-threat effect, let’s assume that it’s true or can sometimes be true. The need then is to accustom blacks and women to competition and challenges, and the potential would seem to be there for greater success when people have instead high, demanding expectations about blacks and women.

. . . Getting rid of the high school exit exam cannot be the solution. The solution has to be preparing low-performing students to pass the exam and telling them that their teachers, parents, ministers, and other community leaders expect them to succeed and will accept no excuses.

Going in the opposite direction, some California schools are using race-based assemblies to try to raise test scores, reports the Sacramento Bee.

The bleachers in the Laguna Creek High School gym were filled earlier this week with students gazing at an outline of Africa on a big screen.

Almost all of them were African American, called together for one of five “Heritage Assemblies” high school administrators organized to pump up kids for STAR testing this week.

. . . Students at Laguna could go to any rally they wanted, but the gatherings were designated for specific races – African Americans in the gym, Pacific Islanders in the theater, Latinos in the multipurpose room.

Some students and parents complained about the stress on race and ethnicity, including a mixed-race couple who’d “taught their children that skin color doesn’t matter.”

“My son texted me and asked me which one to go to,” said Tracy Houston. “He didn’t know where to go because I’ve never raised him to be black or white. … I tell my children they are part of the human race.”

Via This Week in Education.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. “However, bottom-quartile Asian-Americans have a lower pass rate than bottom-quartile whites.”

    I wonder if this has anything to do with the high number of Asian immigrants in California. I’d guess that a lot of them have trouble with the English section.

    Tests like the SAT are self-selecting because you take them voluntarily. I imagine that almost all of the stereotypically high-performing Asian groups (Japanese, Korean, Chinese) take the SAT, whereas the stereotypically more low-performing Asian groups (Vietnamese, Cambodian) not so much. Do Asian students outscore white students on the verbal/writing sections then?

  2. A high school student couldn’t decide which assembly to go to, and had to text mommy to find out? That’s almost as bad as race-based assemblies, which is almost as bad as blaming a test for students’ failure to graduate.

  3. Bill Leonard says:

    The California high school exit exam apparently doesn’t do much of anything, but then it doesn’t test much of anything, either. A case can be made for doing away with it.

    The toughest questions on the test rise to the level of 10th-grade curricula; most test questions hover at the 8th-grade level.

    It takes only a score of 60 to pass — which is why I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would get stressed out about it. My 6-year-old grandson could pick answers at random (no right-minus-wrong penalty for wrong answers) and reasonably expect to get somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the answers correct, without having been exposed to any of the material presubaly tested. A high school kid, even one with problems in English proficiency, couldn’t get even 20 percent or so of the answers right?

  4. “My 6-year-old grandson could pick answers at random (no right-minus-wrong penalty for wrong answers) and reasonably expect to get somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the answers correct, without having been exposed to any of the material presubaly tested. ”

    I haven’t seen the test, but I assume that there are more than simply two or three choies for the multiple choice questions. Most multiple choice questions seem to have at least 4 or 5 possible answers. So, if your kid is really picking answers at random, I doubt he’d get 40 to 50 percent correct. More like 20 to 25%, at best.

  5. Margo/Mom says:

    Bill and Me:

    The laws of probability don’t work quite that way. The probability of landing on the correct answer for one question would be 1 in 4 for a four choice question. When you get to a two question test the probability of getting the correct answer on both diminishes (.25 X .25 if memory serves). As the number of questions increases, the probability diminishes still further. Based on the odds, I would recommend against random selection on a test that required a score of 60 to pass–unless there were a whole lot of questions.

  6. Independent George says:

    Nor did the high-stakes test motivate the schools and students to do better academically than before.

    Was that ever a goal of the exam? I always understood the primary purpose of exit exams was to ensure that a H.S. diploma met some minimum threshold of education, and not as a motivational tool.

  7. The obvious reason that low performing white boys are doing better is because their “low performance” is due not to academic weakness but disengagement in school.

  8. Mark Roulo says:

    I always understood the primary purpose of exit exams was to ensure that a H.S. diploma met some minimum threshold of education, and not as a motivational tool.

    I think the assumption was that some students who were below the cut-line for earning the diploma would improve their test scores enough to graduate. The ‘motivational tool’ part would be motivating the kids to do better so that they would graduate.

    -Mark Roulo

  9. It’s a multiple-choice exam with four choices per question, so random guessing should result in 25% correct. It takes only 55% correct to pass the math and 60% to pass the English Language Arts portion. The hardest math questions include algebra, which is an 8th-grade standard in California, but it’s possible to miss all those questions and pass the test. The hardest ELA questions are based on 10th-grade standards. Students can take the exam multiple times, starting in sophomore year. They’re more likely to have trouble passing the math portion. I think it’s because they’re not learning basic math skills.

  10. Margo, I do understand how the laws of probability work, actually. What you are describing would be the probability of someone getting ALL the questions right by random guessing (“.25 * .25 * .25” translates to “the probability of getting question 1 correct AND question 2 correct AND question 3 correct…”). My post is referring to how many questions a student can reasonably assume to get correct if he randomly guesses, not the probability that the student WILL get all the answers correct.

    Joanne — thanks for the elaboration on the testing format. The standards are indeed ridiculously low. I mean, really, 8th grade math? Then again, I’ve tutored 12th grade students who can’t do basic arithmetic without a calculator. And these students were taking CALCULUS. Good grief…

  11. “I always understood the primary purpose of exit exams was to ensure that a H.S. diploma met some minimum threshold of education, and not as a motivational tool.”

    You’d think so, wouldn’t you? That’s the reason why I say, keep the exit exam even if it means that fewer students graduate. At the very least, it restores some semblance of meaning to a high school diploma. Not MUCH meaning, mind you, but prior to the implementation of the exit exam, a high school diploma was beyond worthless. Now it’s just semi-worthless. 😉 If students can’t muster up a 55% passing grade, they don’t deserve to graduate anyway. I could get a passing grade in my sleep, and it’s been a while since I’ve tackled algebra.

  12. Independent George says:

    It occurs to me that the exit exam is actually functioning exactly as intended, and doing quite a lot – it’s just that we don’t like the result, and are choosing to ignore it. The exit exam seems to be giving us stark evidence that, despite a very low threshold for ‘success’, (a) the schools are not doing a good job of educating its students, and (b) they seem to be failing poor, black and hispanic kids the worst.

    Probably most people already knew this to be true, but it’s a lot different when you have actual numbers; it reminds me of the early years of CompStat in NYC. The skeptics didn’t see anything novel in knowing exactly how bad the crime rate was (“It’s pretty rough out there.” “Thanks!”), but simply identifying the scope of the problem was useful in directing the solution. Buried in the data is a school-by-school comparison of which places over and under performed their peers, and exactly which areas they were strongest or weakest. You can then compare to standardized test data from prior years within the same school, track the trend, and compare test data vs. GPAs for leading and trailing indicators.

    It also makes me think of the way Project Follow Through was buried; the tests may in fact be very successful in telling us what’s happening, except nobody really wants to know what’s happening.

  13. Bill Leonard says:

    I stand corrected on the random guess proposition. But the main point is, not very much is tested — and as Me points out, if a kid can’t muster 55 percent of the correct answers, he or she doesn’t deserve to graduate. I suppose it can be deemed progress if the once-worthless high school diploma now is only semi-worthless. But it dosen’t make me very happy to be a California taxpayer!

  14. I am much amused by Bill Leonard’s disappointment as a taxpayer in the Exit Exam. Bill, you should come hang out in an inner city school for a day or so and really see how your taxpayer funds are treated by the kids who attend. Our students are not doing well on this test (which is very easy) because the kids don’t come to school or they don’t do much when they do.

  15. Texas actually has a pretty good set of high school exit exams (called the “TAKS”) – 12th Graders are tested on Math, Science, English Language Arts, and Social Studies – what I would consider the four main academic subjects.

    The Social Studies includes basic Texas, U.S. and World History; the Science includes basic Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (as well as testing students’ ability to think logically and apply the scientific method); and the Math includes Algebra I & II, Geometry, and a little basic Trig.

    Even the questions are asked in a vey good manner! Too bad that Texas is under pressure from the teacher’s union and parents to get rid of it… 🙁

  16. Mu daughter’s entire–ENTIRE–freshman class at her Catholic all-girls school passed the exit exam at the end of freshman year. No one decided to drop out, as the school carefully explained that this test represented the minimum knowledge any California high school grad could be expected to know. The parents were all very impressed.