Exit exams get easier

With students struggling to pass exit exams, “many states softened standards, delayed the requirement or added alternative paths to a diploma,” reports the New York Times.

“The real pattern in states has been that the standards are lowered so much that the exams end up not benefiting students who pass them while still hurting the students who fail them,” said John Robert Warren, an expert on exit exams and a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

“The exams are just challenging enough to reduce the graduation rate,” Professor Warren added, “but not challenging enough to have measurable consequences for how much students learn or for how prepared they are for life after high school.”

Two-thirds of the nation’s students are supposed to pass an exit exam to earn a high school diploma. The exams appear to increase dropout rates by one or two percentage points.

Yet, “momentum is definitely still moving in favor of states’ adopting these exit exams,” said John F. Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy. As students adjust to exit exams, they work harder to meet the requirements, Jennings said.

I’d support a certificate of completion for students who complete high school without learning basic skills, whether the cause is disability, lack of English fluency or anything else. A diploma should reflect a minimum level of academic competence.

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  1. I could agree to a certificate of completion.

  2. Donalbain says:

    Why not do what we do in the UK? Scrap the idea of “graduation” from high school as a single entity, but instead test each student in the subject they study and give them a grade in each one? If you know how well they did in each of the subjects, what is added by a “high school diploma”?

  3. If graduation standards are made real (ready for workplace, tech school or college) and the expected outcomes ensue; graduation rates drop like a rock (which they would), dropout rates skyrocket (which they probably would), MAYBE the issue of middle and elementary schools failure to prepare kids for real high school work would be addressed. Social promotion needs to stop and mastery of the fundamental knowledge and skills, including appropriate behavior and work ethic, needs to be stressed.

  4. Margo/Mom says:

    momof4–I would be willing to go there (higher drop out rates) if it would bring about what you suggest (attention to deficits in the earlier grades). But, I am hesitant to accept the term “social promotion” in regards to the way that I see the problem. Blaming social promotion tends the see the problem as an individual one (being passed along without having “earned” the promotion). When whole grades or classes in a school have only a third, or so, of students performing at grade level in math or reading, this is not a social promotion problem, it is an issue of mismatch between the learning needs of the students and the education available to them. There is wide latitude for discussion of what goes into that education and what needs to change. But without attention to the quality of that education (and I am willing to define education as broadly as needed to get the job done), massive grade repitition will only result in even greater rates of drop out, and perhaps at earlier grades.

  5. The practice in Texas was started by none other than good old George W, whose adminstration required 5th graders to get a 58% on the state mandated tests to be considered passing.

    Meanwhile, his PR team bragged about what a great job they were doing hold schools accountable and raising achievement.

  6. Anyone who’s ever seen state standardized tests in mathematics will tell you that they’re not measuring anything resembling preparation for the real world. That’s not because they’re too easy, it’s because the goals of state standards (and in turn, the exams) are focused on prepping every student for calculus by the time they’re out of high school. If they’re not interested or prepared to reach those goals, it doesn’t matter, and thus kids who need more time on basic skills aren’t given the time to learn them. I can’t speak for the other subjects, but as far as math goes, the tests should be rewritten not to be easier but to focus on skills students need in real life and across disciplines (reasonableness of answers, estimation, finding patterns, drawing conclusions, analyzing data, and basic numeracy).

  7. Margo Mom: When whole grades or classes in a school have only a third, or so, of students performing at grade level in math or reading, social promotion is a way of hiding the problem. Retain two-thirds of the class and it will get attention fast. But retain them at the level where the problem began, not in 9th grade because they can’t read or do basic arithmetic.

    Tom: Agreed. Preparation for college should not be the only or even the main goal of high school. But does anyone really expect all high school graduates, or even all college freshmen, to be ready for calculus. IIRC, at least 3/4 of college students never needed anything past algebra, with maybe some dumbed-down statistics. (What those of us going into math-intensive majors called “statistics for sociology majors”.)