Exit exams a necessary evil
July 15, 2003
Along with declining budgets and the challenge of a growing population of non-English speaking students, California schools are now faced with a debate over whether to continue with mandatory high school exit exams.
Implementation of the testing has been tricky, as pass rates have been extremely low – below the 50 percent mark – and the state has put on hold the planned implementation of the requirement (next year) until the class of 2006 is graduated. This makes a bad situation worse.
Ideally, exit exams gauge the effectiveness of our schools, and require them to do better where they fail our students. They can be a measuring stick by which to plan curriculum and continuing education of our teachers, something we need to ensure that our public schools continue to get the job done.
On the other hand, standardized testing has always been fraught with problems, from test anxiety – a problem that even straight-A students sometimes suffer – to a shift in educational format from teaching critical thinking, to simple test preparation.
What we need in public schools is a system that allows us to assess our abilities to teach children and improve over time, and graduate today’s students with proficiency in the basic skills.
Students start testing in 10th grade, and can take the exit exams several times over the years. If they fail consistently, perhaps an intensive required summer school course following their senior year – with a required passing grade – can help today’s students while we evaluate curriculum changes for the future.