July 21, 2003

High school exit exams under fire

Here is a sensible Op-Ed on California's decision to delay the high school exit exam requirement: Why the exit exam got held back instead of failing kids, by Daniel Weintraub (SacBee, Sun Jul 20 2003).

The California Board of Education's recent decision to delay the impact of the state's new high school exit exam was a disappointing but necessary tactical retreat that should ultimately advance the long-term goal of accountability in the public schools. If the ed board hadn't backed off, the legal dogs would have sued the state on behalf of thousands of students in the class of 2004 who would have been denied diplomas after failing the test. Their argument: These kids never got a fair opportunity to learn the material on which they were tested. Unfortunately, they are probably right.

The issue continues to play in New York State as well. The difficulty of the June 17 instance of the Regents Math A exam was misjudged and the exam had an unexpected high failure rate. Commissioner of Education Richard Mills might have responded by lowering the passing score, but instead he tossed the exam entirely. It must have given him great relief to get it off his back and not have anyone fail the Math portion this year, because he went a step further and extended the good news to juniors as well: any junior that sat the exam in June has it waived as a graduation requirement. The Board of Education has now named a panel to investigate the Regents Math A exam and respond to 9 specific questions. My take on the exam is in this critique of the Regents Math A.

In other news on high school exit exams, the Boston Herald has this:

STIRRING STORY: Tracey Newhart, an aspiring chef who has Down syndrome, failed her MCAS test, which could keep her from studying cooking at Johnson and Wales University.

The original is pay-per-view at the Herald. The story is also here in the Cape Cod times. How long ago was it that a grade school diploma, or at most an eighth grade education, would be the normal requirement for studying cooking?

Which brings me to this news item from Australia. Drop-outs can be successful, by Farrah Tomazin (The Age (AU), July 21, 2003).

A study tracking nearly 8000 students has found that many teenagers who do not finish year 12 earn more money and have higher job stability than those who stay but do not go on to university. Geoff Masters, chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, which released the study, said the findings contradict the common belief that early school leavers tended to struggle after dropping out. 'It's often believed that students who leave school before the end of year 12 are at risk of not making a successful transition from school into the workforce,' Professor Masters said. 'But when you compare them with students who finish year 12 but don't go on to university, the early leavers are more likely to be working full-time, have a degree of job stability and be in a job that they like.'

It sounds plausible to me. The trend to demand a high school diploma for everything and look down on those that leave high school without a degree mainly reflects a steady lowering of standards for the eighth grade education.

Posted by Bas Braams at July 21, 2003 12:56 PM