In this article from the major Sacramento newspaper, Superintendent Jack O'Connell was pretty clear about whether or not students will have to pass the California High School Exit Exam this year, after years of delays:
Seniors who do not pass the California High School Exit Exam this year should be allowed to continue their education, but diplomas will be awarded only to students who pass the test, Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, announced at a Sacramento news conference Friday morning. (emphasis mine--Darren)Then of course, comes the very next paragraph:
Within hours, lawyers who oppose the exam said they will sue the state in the coming weeks to try to lift the exit exam as a requirement for this year's graduating class.
Color me surprised. Not.
I hear lots of squealing from the anti-testing crowd. "High stakes test" this, "doesn't test what they really know" that. Poor dumplings shouldn't have to show they learned something in order to get a diploma?
Let's be clear here. The California High School Exit Exam isn't a college entrance exam. It has two portions, math and English. The math portion tests only junior high math. It does include some Algebra I on it, but students could conceivably fail every Algebra I question and still pass the math section. Let's remember that Algebra I is a junior high math class and is the highest math course specifically required to graduate from high school.
In math, at least, the state is testing the absolute minimum. While I haven't concerned myself with the language section of the test, I'll assume it's equally targeted to the bottom rungs of learning.
Also, students have multiple opportunities to pass the test. Students take the test as sophomores; if they don't pass one or both of the sections, they retake the failed sections as juniors. Ditto for seniors. Three opportunities they get, three shots at showing the absolute minimum competence to justify the money spent on them by the taxpayers for 12 or 13 years.
I'm sympathetic to those parents who want their children to graduate, get a diploma, and move on. But if a diploma is to be anything other than a certificate of 12 years of seat time, if it's supposed to mean something educational, then passing the exit exam is the least it could mean. I'd support giving a "Certificate of Completion" to students who get their required units in school but fail the exit exam (how could that happen? but you know it does) and let those students walk across the stage at the graduation ceremony--I'm willing to be that much of a softie. But giving them an official document when they can't pass a junior high test? No, my touchy-feely side stops short of that.
There are some interesting arguments against the test. One is that it's so easy as to be useless. That's the one I'm most sympathetic to but I'll still lean towards having an easy test to having none at all. Another is that tests don't show everything students have learned. That's true, but I'm not interested in whether or not they've mastered Halo, learned the latest in text-messaging shorthand, or can dance like there's no tomorrow. I want to know if, after at least 12 years of education, they can string words together into coherent sentences and can solve arithmetic problems of the most basic kind. That doesn't seem too much to ask.
Of course, if they cannot do these things, it's not their fault. It's the fault of the schools, of the teachers, of our racist society (if the failures happen to be non-white), etc. Read the latter half of the article linked above--you get every argument you can think of, and then some. Fortunately, though, there is some sanity:
"Do we believe students can learn up to a middle school level education? And will we do what it takes to get them there? If not, let's not pretend we're doing them a favor" by granting diplomas to those who can't pass the test, she (an advocate for academic achievement in low income students) said.
And it's not like the Superintendent isn't offering options. Here are some, quoted from the article:
* Enrolling in an additional year of high school or independent study, subject to school board approval.
* Enrolling in an adult school program run by a K-12 school district.
* Enrolling in a charter school.
* Attending a community college that has a diploma completion program.