California joins other states in abandoning high school exit exams
- California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill abolishing the California High School Exit Exam, joining roughly a dozen states to do so in recent years, EdSource reports.
- Though the exam was originally implemented in 1999 as a way to improve student achievement, in practice, the test appears to skew toward white and Asian students and failed to reflect the Common Core standards the state had adopted in the interim.
- Detractors also pointed out that the exam prevented thousands of students from graduating since its implementation and presented a significant barrier to students in homes where English is a second language.
The trend toward high school exit exams that reached its heights in the No Child Left Behind era is now falling as more states are retracting policies that tie such high-stake tests to diplomas. The reason for the implementation was a noble one: increasing the value of the high school diploma and proving students were better prepared for the rigors of college. However, some states, including California, are not only discontinuing the exams, they have retroactively issued diplomas to students who failed these exams in the first place.
Rethinking Schools Magazine editor and veteran educator Stan Karp wrote, “There are several reasons for this retreat, including the research on exit testing, which clearly shows that exit tests don’t help the students who pass and hurt the students who don’t. They increase dropout rates and incarceration rates without improving college participation, college completion levels, or economic prospects for graduates in states that have them.”
Some states are looking now to ACT or SAT tests to fill a similar role, though most are using these tests as a state accountability measure for schools and school districts rather than a requirement for graduation. Though the problem of greater access to preparation programs for wealthier families still exists under this strategy, this issue is somewhat offset by the fact that state-funded college entrance exams offer an advantage to disadvantaged students who might not otherwise afford them, in addition to offering a gateway to college for some students who would not otherwise go down that road.
Another approach to proving preparedness is the completion of graduation projects that may demonstrate more real-life knowledge. These projects require students to research and write about projects of interest to them as a way to demonstrate the application of inquiry and communication skills. However, these projects are much more time-consuming to grade and often put an additional strain on the educators, usually English teachers, who grade them. However, some version of this graduation project, perhaps including technical or video projects in the mix, may be a better way to demonstrate student knowledge and preparation for the world ahead.