Easy exit

California dumps exit exam — retroactively

California has ditched its high school exit exam because it’s not aligned with Common Core standards. (It’s much easier.) Furthermore, the state will grant high school diplomas to anyone who met graduation requirements but failed the exam since the class of 2006, reports Sharon Noguchi for the San Jose Mercury News.

Nobody knows how many people might qualify for a diploma. Some 32,000 people didn’t pass the exam by the end of 12th grade, but some may have passed later in adult ed, while others may have failed other requirements.

Britne Ryan, 25,  finished high school in 2008, but couldn’t pass the exam, reports Noguchi. She “hopes to go back to school and get into the medical field or work in an office.”

Erika Ortega, of Oakland, hopes a high school diploma will enable her to earn a certificate in early childhood education. Photo:  Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group)

Erika Sandoval hopes a high school diploma will enable her to qualify as a preschool teacher. Photo: Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

“I am really happy,” said Erika Ortega Sandoval, 25, of Oakland. A learning disability made it hard to master English after arriving in the U.S. at age 14. She failed the exam multiple times.

“Now she’s hoping to study child development at Merritt College in Oakland, and become a preschool teacher,” reports Noguchi.

Not surprisingly, failure rates were higher for students with disabilities and English Learners. Critics said that was unfair.

But here’s the problem: Anyone who couldn’t pass the exit exam, with multiple tries, is going to find it very hard to pass community college classes.

The math portion — which had the highest failure rate — was based on sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade standards. It was a four-option multiple-choice test. Students needed a 55 percent score. If they knew arithmetic and guessed on everything else, they could pass.

The English section, which was based on eighth-­, ninth- and 10th­-grade standards, required a 60 percent. Solid eighth-grade skills and guessing should have been enough.

“How many millions were spent creating the exit exam, training us on its use, actually giving the exam for all those years, grading that exam, and reporting its results?” asks Darren, a California math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast.

In an e-mail, a colleague also wonders about the wasted money and time.

Well, give ’em all diplomas and trophies, too, and I’m all right with it. But I hope that our esteemed education leaders forgive us lowly classroom teachers if we don’t get excited about the next big thing that is going to really make a difference this time . . .

The pendulum has swung back to “it’s all good as long as you try,” writes Darren.

In theory, the state could design a new exit exam aligned to Common Core standards. It would be a much harder exam with a much higher failure rate, so it will not happen.

Math-phobic “Anna” couldn’t “walk” with her class because she’d failed the exit exam, writes Lauren Seymour, a former “math recovery” teacher, in One Point Short. “Despite its worthy goals,” the test “could have robbed her of her future.”

Anna passed the math exam in summer school, enrolled in community college and has a career as a grant writer, writes Seymour. Without the exit exam, she “would not have worked so hard to acquire the minimum math skills necessary for graduation.” But others never quite got to 55 percent.

Quick fixes for low grad rates

Why are graduation rates rising? In some places, quick — and dubious — fixes are responsible, reports NPR.

Many Chicago high schools mislabel departing students, for example.

They were saying they were moving out of town or going to private schools when, in reality, they were enrolling at the district’s alternative schools or, in some cases, GED programs.

. . . One school listed 120 students from the Class of 2013 as having left to be home-schooled.

Credit recovery programs, which let students earn credits after failing a class, are very, very popular — and usually not very demanding.

New Jersey requires students to take a graduation exam, but those who fail can take a second, much easier test, reports Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC. The untimed test has one question per subject.

Yet half the senior class in Camden, New Jersey failed the first and the second exam. Statewide, 1,400 students failed both exams last year, says Gonzalez.  Most graduated anyhow.

There’s an appeals process. And students can submit samples of work they did in class to the state. It can be a single, graded algebra problem or a persuasive essay with a teacher’s comments on it.

. . . The mandatory high school graduation exam just isn’t a barrier to graduation anymore.

Iowa has the nation’s highest high school graduation rate at 90 percent. NPR looks at an alternative high school in Des Moines that provides intensive support to get about half its low-income, low-motivation students to the finish line.

Graduation rates aren’t exactly accurate, but they are at an all-time high, according to Nathaniel Malkus at AEI.

LA: If D’s don’t count, 3/4 won’t graduate

Ten years ago, Los Angeles Unified’s board decided that all students would have to pass college-prep courses required by state universities with a C or better to graduate, starting with the class of 2017. Three-fourths of 10th graders won’t graduate in 2017, the district estimates.

Tomorrow, the board is expected to ease graduation requirements: D students will be allowed to graduate

In addition, the board may let students stay in enrolled until age 22, an option now reserved for special education students and new immigrants who need time to learn English.

Meanwhile, a state bill would eliminate the graduation exam because it’s not aligned to Common Core standards.

This story profiles an 18-year-old who’s “aced” her classes in a home-study program but failed the math portion of the graduation exam.

The state exam measures basic skills: It’s possible to pass the math portion with elementary arithmetic skills and a little guessing. If it were aligned to Common Core, most students would fail.

60% of adults fail Rhode Island test

Saying Rhode Island’s graduation exam is unfair, the Providence Students Union persuaded 50 professionals to take a condensed version of the math portion on “take the test” day.  Sixty percent scored “substantially below proficient,” which would put them at risk of not graduating from high school if they weren’t already college graduates. Eight percent scored “proficient with distinction, 14 percent were “proficient” and 18 percent were “partially proficient.”

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

If states test real readiness, most will fail

Should states replace graduation exams with new tests aligned to Common Core State Standards? States have very different standards and methods of measurement now, writes Checker Finn. About half require students to pass an exit exam, usually pegged at ninth- to 10th-grade standards, which might be seventh- or eighth-grade standards under CCSS. Some now require students to pass end-of-course exams in high school. “There’s a widening belief in educator-land that this is a better course of action than a single statewide exit test,” he writes. Other states don’t believe in high-stakes test and trust teacher judgment.

No state graduation exam is considered evidence of college readiness or accepted by employers as proof of employability. Mastering the new standards is supposed to show college and career readiness.

If the “cut scores” (still to be set by the two assessment-building consortia) on new Common Core assessments at the 12th grade level truly signify college/workforce readiness and are accepted as such by the real world, the failure rate will be enormous for years to come and the political pushback will be powerful. How many states can withstand not giving diplomas to large fractions of kids who have persisted in school through 12th grade? Yet if they continue to give diplomas to just about everyone who persists, then many of those diplomas will continue not to signify college-workforce readiness and the real-world incentive/benefit effect will continue to be lost.

If CCSS is wildly successful, it still will take years for students to meet the new standards. Finn suggests setting multiple cut scores such as “minimal,” “tolerable,” and “truly college/career ready.”

This should be done at all grade levels, and kids (and parents and teachers) need to see the steep trajectory if they want to get from, say, minimal in 3rd grade to tolerable in 7th grade and “truly ready” by the end of high school.

Second, states should—for some years, but maybe not forever—award two kinds of high school diplomas: One will resemble the old kind and represents Carnegie units or maybe passing an old-style exit exam (or both), and nobody will claim that it denotes college/career readiness. The new one, however, will correlate with the “truly ready” level on the Common Core assessments (and whatever additional graduation requirements a state may want to impose in other subjects).

Many colleges and employers would have to accept the “truly ready” diploma as evidence the graduate can handle college-level math and English classes and job training, Finn writes.

I’d like to see a training-ready diploma as well as a college-ready diploma. Many young people would succeed in an apprenticeship or community college vocational class, if motivated to work harder in high school.

Fewer states require exit exam

Fewer state are requiring students to pass an exit exam to earn a high school diploma, reports the Center on Education Policy. Instead, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee now count a student’s exit exam score as a percentage of the final grade in a course required for graduation. Alabama will make this change in 2015.

However, testing is on the rise.

. . . in addition to the 31 states that administer an exit exam, 11 states require students to take the ACT or SAT college entrance exam, and 16 states administer, or at least offer to all students, assessments intended to assess students’ readiness for college and/or a career. But although many states are using college and career readiness assessments to determine how well students are being prepared for success after high school, very few colleges and universities actually use these assessments for college admission or placement.

Common Core Standards adopted by most states will require new tests.

Honors student fails graduation test

An Atlanta honors student who flunked the state graduation test five times missed commencement ceremonies at Benjamin E. Mays High, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The story is focused on the student’s disappointment. Hoping for a waiver, she’d invited out-of-state family members to the ceremony. The story doesn’t try to explain how someone who lacked the skills to pass an English Language Arts test in five tries nonetheless made the honor roll. Is she a math-science ace but weak in English? Or maybe the high school expects little from students and inflates its grades accordingly.

The student plans to attend Benedict College, a historically black institution that admits students in the top 75 percent of their class.

The Georgia exam isn’t hard, writes Just a Grunt on Jammie Wearing Fool. “Yeah I am real impressed with your ‘My kid is an honor student’ bumper sticker.”

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.