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.

Exit exam axed for special ed students

Special education students won’t have to pass an exit exam to get a high school diploma in California under a budget deal cut by legislators.  Some Democrats had wanted to drop the exam for all students.

Parents of special education students are divided on the issue, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Some say their children are just as smart as nondisabled students and should not be held to lower standards. However, others argue the test is unfair for kids with certain disabilities who repeatedly failed the test and were consequently denied a high school diploma.

California’s exam is a four-option multiple-choice test that requires a 60 percent score to pass the English Language Arts and 55 percent for the math portion. The hardest questions cover 10th-grade English and eighth-grade math, which includes algebra.  By guessing on the harder questions, students with middle-school English skills and elementary math skills should be able to pass.

Students who pass their courses but can’t pass the exam can be offered a completion certificate or a “special” diploma. Most special education students can pass the exam — in the San Jose area, nearly half pass on their first try in 10th grade. To offer them an easier alternative does them no favors.

Exit exam under fire

California’s exit exam could be suspended, if Democrats in the Legislature have their way. The proposal is in a budget-balancing bill.

When the state is making cuts that could lead to a shorter school year, fewer teachers and larger class sizes, it doesn’t seem realistic to expect the same results as before the cuts,” said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Baldwin Vista (Los Angeles County), in a statement.

Dropping the exit exam doesn’t save much money, reports the Sacramento Bee.


The proposal is expected to save less than $10 million per year statewide, unless schools supplement that sum by reducing or eliminating remedial programs for low-achieving students.

In other words: Instead of giving extra help to students with poor reading and math skills, let’s just give them worthless diplomas.

Gov. Schwarzenegger says he’ll veto the provision.

Passing algebra, flunking middle-school math

New Jersey students who’ve passed algebra, geometry and even advanced algebra are flunking the graduation exam’s math test, which requires a 50% on middle-school questions, writes Derrell Bradford of E3 (Excellent Education for Everyone) on NJVoices guest blog.

Students who can’t pass the exit exam on three tries can earn a diploma through Special Review Assessment.

Sixty-eight percent of SRA takers needed the exam because they failed the math portion of the HSPA. Notably, SRA supporters identify this problem and assert that a lack of quality math instruction, or instructors, is catalytic in the breakdown.

But the DOE, after examining the courses these students took, found something more disturbing. Ninety percent of SRA users took, and passed, Algebra I. A stunning 86 percent took and passed Geometry, while 71 percent and 91 percent took and passed Algebra II and Biology, respectively.

New Jersey has suburban schools for affluent whites in which classes teach what they claim to teach, Bradford writes. And it has urban schools  where “algebra” or “geometry” is just a name.

In a recent Praxis test, “42 percent of prospective New Jersey teachers — and two-thirds of minority applicants — failed the math portion of the certification exam,” Bradford writes.

He asks why students should be forced to attend schools that are just going through the motions, pretending to teach algebra in algebra class but leaving students unprepared for any future.

Via The Foundry.

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.