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Exit Exam News From Pennsylvania and California


An update on the tussle over high school graduation exams in Pennsylvania: The chairman of the state board of education there announced a proposal that would phase in end-of-course tests starting next year.

As I reported a couple of weeks ago, the state Senate had lashed back at Gov. Edward Rendell and the state department of education by barring development of the proposed Keystone Exams. With the governor's blessing, the education department had signed a contract in May to have the end-of-course tests designed, angering lawmakers, who saw it as a violation of a moratorium they had passed last year. To calm the kerfuffle, the Rendell administration shelved plans to develop the tests.

Now comes news that state board of ed chair Joe Torsella has negotiated a compromise that would allow the tests to be developed and to count for one-third of a student's course grade. The new Keystone Exams would replace the state tests given to 11th graders. School districts would not be obliged, however, to use them as a graduation requirement, as originally proposed. The board is to consider this compromise at its August meeting.

And in California, which has been teetering on the edge of axing its exit exam for financial reasons, new support has emerged for the tests. Early results show more students passing the test, especially English-language learners and special education students, according to this story in The San Francisco Chronicle. That prompted the state board of education to get on board in support of the tests, which are a graduation requirement there. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell have been fighting the proposed elimination of the exams.


When research has decisively shown that exit exams cut the number of graduates, especially among minorities (more because of test phobia and test bias than inability to perform, in many cases), why on earth do they continue to insist on spending precious dollars to keep the exit exams?

I just finished a grad class where we had a very intense discussion about high school exit exams. The discussion focused on the benefits of having end of course exams instead of one final exit exam. The greatest benefit discussed was that it would be given at the end of the course and it could be controlled by the teacher. One student mentioned that the test could be proctored by central office or an outside agency, if it would make the exam more legitimate.

This is still a topic that has to be discussed, and not forced into law by a group of emotional politicians.

One very important facet of exit exams seems to be missing from most discussions of them, the fairness factor. To be really fair, an exit exam option should be offered to any student that feels they have the potential to succeed on such an exam without the four years of mandatory attendance in secondary school. By its very nature, an exit exam proposes to examine the achievement of high school students. Any student capable of passing such amn exam early, should have the option to choose a test out diploma, and the exams shouls be offered as an alternative to four years of attendance.
Early graduation and testing out of high school is apperently not the purpose of exit exams, although fairness demands that such options be available. That such an option is not a part of the exit exam program suggests that the exams themselves are merely an adde hurdle to cross at the end of 12 years of education and that the results are expected to yield some sort of statistically accurate data on the effectivenes of instruction. In the light of shrinking budgets and school attendance crisis, the addition of adding expensive and unecessary standardized testing to determine gradautability seems excessive, if not outrageous.

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