Students ask policy makers to take exit exam

Today is Take the Test Day in Rhode Island. The Providence Student Union (PSU) has invited community leaders and policy makers to take a condensed version of the state graduation exam.

Providence students haven’t received the “support, resources and improved teaching” necessary to reach high standards, argues PSU member and “part-time zombie” Cauldierre McKay in a blog post.

For the state to punish so many individual students for its own systemic failure to deliver a high-quality education is an injustice on a massive scale.

. . . A comprehensive 2011 study by the National Research Council concluded that, “high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement.” . . .  this policy will do nothing to improve our education while denying many students a diploma—the diploma they need to make it through life.

Forty percent of Rhode Island’s 11th graders — 60 percent in Providence — are in danger of failing the exam and not graduating. That would turn young people into hopeless, jobless, lifeless “zombies,” argues PSU.

Most of the 35 test-takers thought they “tanked the test,” reports the Providence Journal.  Some complained of trick questions on the math exam.

“I was good at math,” said state Rep. Larry Valencia, D-Richmond. “I took trig, statistics, pre-calculus. I have a degree in chemistry. I think the test is very unfair. It doesn’t represent what the average high school student should know.”

Carla Shalaby, director of Elementary Education at Wellesley College, struggles with some of the questions on the math exam, which she took at the Knight Memorial Library in Providence.

Photo: Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal

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  1. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    “We all know that without a high school diploma a person has drastically reduced life opportunities and a severely limited future.”

    Poor, silly, misguided child. I weep when I read things like this.

    It’s nothing that’s not been said before, but the value of the high school degree is commensurate to what it takes to earn it. It’s not a magic talisman. It’s a proxy for value.

    What’s even sadder is that it’s treated as one not just by Ms. McKay, but by thousands of well-intentioned educators, administrators, and policy-makers. They are every bit as deluded as she is.

    And what’s even sadder than that is that their delusions can actually hide the truth for a short while, divorcing the value of the diploma from the education behind it and swindling those who rely on the diploma’s use as a proxy.

    But the truth will win out in the end. The Day of Reckoning is nigh. Indeed, it has already started, as people across the country are starting to realize that high school degrees are meaningless.

    Perhaps on that day, the dead will rise from the grave. They shall march the streets, and there shall be…


  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    I would love to see “community leaders and policy makers” take the RI graduation exam. I suspect that a not insignificant number of them would fail.

    Would that mean that the “failures” are stupid or unfit for their jobs? Not at all. It would mean that much of what they were supposed to learn in school, much of what they were tested on, is simply irrelevant to their success.

    Which raises serious questions abut why we force all young people through that process.

    • Educationally Incorrect says:

      I’m sure that I would bomb a test on dead English poets, but that doesn’t mean that I oppose the existence of such tests.

      If I bombed every section of every standardized test — like Rick Roach did — then it would seriously call into question my competence for any position outside that of Walmart greeter.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Educationally Incorrect,

        If you took the final in each of your high school courses, I suspect you would fail at least half. Which is closer to your reaction to that statement?

        1. Of course I would. Everyone would. So what?

        2. I probably would. I really should go back to high school and retake those courses.

        3. No, I wouldn’t. I’d pass almost all of them. Cause I’m an educated person.

        • Educationally Incorrect says:

          4) I’d likely pass the ones related to the professions and jobs I’ve held. When I was in high school I didn’t know exactly what those would be.

  3. Isn’t part of the point of these that students don’t know what they need to know, so they need to learn some of lots of things? I’ve written on here before about students who can’t pass the pre-nursing biology classes because they can’t do the math that they’ll need to do to calculate a dosage. I’m sure that they believed that they’d never need algebra and a working knowledge of exponents.

    I don’t know how well I’d do now on the high school literature tests that I passed 20 years ago…but there was no way to know that I’d be using math and science daily, while other students would use other subjects daily. So, we all learned the basics in each subject so that we would be able to learn the specialized things that we’d need later.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I’m not sure you need a working knowledge of exponents to calculate a dosage. Basic fractions, yes. Right now we have the ridiculous situation where we force lots of kids to take algebra 2 and trigonometry that most of them will never have any contact with again, while at the same time lots of students (sometimes the same ones!) graduate high school without understanding basic fractions.

      Most people don’t use much of anything of the subject matter knowledge they supposedly learned in high school. It’s not like they tried out various subjects and then settled on one or two that they actually use. They don’t use any. Nada. Zip.

      • It’s possible to calculate dosage without exponents, but it’s pretty standard to use them when doing metric conversions (10^3ml = 1l) and I had students swear that 10^3 is 300, not 1000. I never argued that everybody needs trig, and I wouldn’t think it was appropriate to require students to pass a trig test to graduate from high school. I was, however, appalled that students would come into my freshman class/lab, declare that they were A students, be unable to convert 1mg/ml to mg/l, and say that they didn’t need to know how to do that anyway. The skills required to do that type of math would be covered in a good math, physical science, chemistry, or physics class.

        While I somewhat understand your argument that most people don’t use a lot of high school material every day, I think that people probably should be using more of what they should have learned in high school. For example, people who know that anything that has calories is pretty much either a fat, protein, or carb would understand that ‘low fat’ but same calorie usual means ‘higher carb’. The high school students that I teach know that, and I hope they use it! I write mostly about science/math because that’s what I do, but I’d think that the ability to write, edit, read for understanding, and know basic history and civics would also be useful for many adults.

      • Doesn’t need to know exponents? To use the Metric system, no less? I suppose they can just use fractions – if they get their conversions off a table, and have no underlying understanding of what the numbers actually *mean*.

  4. I can understand if one can’t remember enough to pass an exit level English Language Arts exam for high school; and if they just did ‘OK’ on the general Science exit exam (i.e., introductory, basic Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science & Astronomy, Physics), but there’s no excuse for not passing the Social Studies exit exam (basic U.S. History, World Geography, World History, U.S. Government & introductory Economics) and Math exit exam (Algebra I, Geometry, some of Algebra II) even years later…