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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Farewell to the exit exam

As states try to boost high school graduation rates, exit exams are losing favor. “In 2013-14, some 24 states had an exit exam or graduation test of some kind,” write Theresa Harrington and Louis Freedberg on EdSource. “Today only 13 do.”

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Now California, which had suspended use of its exit exam, has dumped the test permanently and will not seek a replacement, report Harrington and Freedberg.

“Since 2015, the state has allowed students who had failed the exam to apply to receive their diplomas retroactively, as long as they completed all required coursework or other graduation requirements,” they write.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called testing students’ competency “outdated and unnecessary.”

When the Legislature originally approved the idea of a high school exit exam in 1999 — and for it to become a graduation requirement beginning with the class of 2006 — its primary goal was to “significantly improve pupil achievement in high school and to ensure that pupils who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade level competency in reading, writing, and mathematics.”

More than 95 percent of students passed the exam in 2013-14, notes EdSource. That’s not surprising: It measured basic skills.

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.

Not surprisingly, English Learners and other disadvantaged students were less likely to pass.

Here’s the problem: People who can’t pass a test this easy, with multiple retakes, don’t have the reading and math skills needed to learn a skilled trade, much less pass a community college class.

California has adopted Common Core standards, which require much more than the old exit exam. However, most students don’t meet those standards. “Statewide, in all tested grades, 48.56 percent of students met or exceeded the English language arts/literacy standards,” the Education Department report. “In mathematics, 37.56 percent of students met or exceeded standards.”

New York is debating whether to replace its five required Regents exams with a senior “capstone” project, reports Chalkbeat.

Like California, Nevada is offering high school diplomas retroactively to students who met other requirements but failed the now-abandoned exam.

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