Monday, June 26, 2006

Update on the High School Exit Exam

Here's a telling paragraph from a story in today's major Sacramento newspaper:

The dashed dreams (of those who didn't pass the exit exam and couldn't graduate) were the result of California's experiment in shifting the meaning of a high school diploma. Once a document students received for attending 12 years of school, the high school diploma -- beginning this year -- is supposed to be restricted to those who demonstrate they can read, write and calculate.

Imagine, it's an experiment to ensure that high school graduates can "read, write and calculate"! However, look at the very next paragraphs:

Changing the rules has shined a new light on the state's education system. Trends that have long plagued California public schools in ways that were tough to quantify are now starkly obvious, not only through the experiences of five Hiram Johnson seniors The Bee followed through their exit exam journey this year, but through hard data.

Statewide and local exit exam results prove that social promotion is rampant, standards-based education -- supposed to be the great equalizer of public education -- is trailing expectations and the distribution of experienced teachers is lopsided. Lower pass rates among students who are African American, Latino, low income and non-native English speakers highlight that the efforts to reform education have come slowest to schools serving California's neediest children.

So we admit that there have always been troubles in education, we admit that social promotion is rampant, we admit that the exit exam (and other standardized tests) are shining a beacon of light on these troubles and compelling us to address them--yet the fact that some students fail the exit exam is apparently a bad thing, and this whole positive process is an experiment that forces our poor, overburdened students to actually prove a minimum of academic ability.

And this paper isn't even the most left-wing paper there is! Can you imagine what the stories must be in the LA Times or the SF Chronicle?

Not all kids graduated this year. It's hard to have sympathy for this student, however:

Like 26 of the 36 Johnson students who didn't graduate that night because of failing the exit exam, Linda is categorized as an "English learner." She was born in the United States but speaks Vietnamese at home and has always attended classes geared for students who are not native English speakers.

The bilingual lobby wants to keep things this way, too. It ensures their future--at the expense of each student's future.

Some parents, though, are glad that the new focus compelled their children to learn.

"It's a good thing that our education system says you have to learn something," she said. "What kind of impact will they have on all of our futures if they don't?"

For years, she had been frustrated as she watched Brandon advance from grade to grade without learning very much. Reynolds saw all along what the exit exam now is making California educators acknowledge: the prevalence of social promotion.

Sacramento school officials say that, by extension, they've learned another lesson during the exit exam's first year.

"Don't wait until after they (fail) the test," said Maggie Carrillo Mejia, superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District. "Let's work to make sure they're prepared the first time."

To think that there was ever a time when this wasn't so is a scary thought indeed. Seriously, did our educational system here in California really just move people through 13 years of seat time, never caring if they learned anything or not? I honestly genuinely truly believe the answer is yes. And I give former (Democrat) Governor Gray Davis a large share of the credit for standing up to the entrenched interests of the status quo and implementing our state's Standardized Testing And Reporting (STAR) System, which predates NCLB by a few years and is more rigorous.


Eric said...

Unfortunately for us teachers, retention, at least at the elementary level is difficult as for many years the "final decision" was not the teacher or the school but the parents. I had one second grader this year who was unable to identify ~50% of his letters, was supposed to be held back in first grade but mom said no becasue he "wanted to be with his friends". What is unfortunate is that even with the progress he's made with me he will still not be able to handle third grade work.

Imagine...having to actually show you learned something to get your hs diploma...go figure...

Omni said...

I live in San Diego, and I want my tax dollars to go to making sure that students being educate at my expense are actually LEARNING... and that means in ENGLISH, the language of commerce in this country.

I bet you'll like these blogs:

ns said...

The norm among most schools are social promotion - all in the interest of self esteem bull sheiss.

Don't want to hurt their feeeelings.

This happened to a distant relative. His father is president of the school board - of the school in which he attended. He was socially promoted all through school - and can't write a paper or do algebra to save his life.

So it can happen to anyone. Even the school board president's son.

It's very sad.