Doing away with the high school exit exam
(Calif.) Thirteen years after ushering in what was then considered a cutting-edge readiness tool, California is set to join a handful of states that have decided the high school exit exam isn’t useful.
Legislation that would suspend the California High School Exit Exam beginning with the class of 2017 is set for its first public hearing this week.
A number of other states have recently taken the same action largely because of a growing recognition that there’s little data supporting the validity of some exit exams and yet thousands of students each year are denied a diploma based on scores from the assessments.
Two states – Georgia and South Carolina – have taken the additional step of retroactively awarding diplomas to those who completed all graduation requirements but couldn’t pass the exit exam – a step that has not been included in the California bill.
Some advocates say doing away with the test should be accompanied with back-dated diplomas.
“If they’re going to eliminate the test, then they should allow students who were unable to pass it to receive their diploma,” said Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing – also known as FairTest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating misuse of standardized tests..
“There were kids who dropped out of school because of these tests; kids who completed and passed all required course work but who couldn’t pass the exit exam,” he said. “Kids have been penalized on the basis of a faulty tool, and states that use these exams are beginning to realize this.”
Researchers and education advocates in both California and across the nation have in recent years begun questioning the validity of using a single exam to measure a student’s college- and career-readiness. Many exit-exam states that later adopted new education standards have used the transition period to reevaluate senior assessments.
Some have scrapped exit exams altogether in favor of a system based on end-of-course assessments that measure how well a student mastered the required content of the subject. Others have blended use of the two, keeping the exit exam data for federal accountability requirements but not to withhold a diploma from a student who otherwise would graduate.
A comprehensive report issued in 2012 by the Center on Education Policy found at that time that eight of 26 states with exit exam policies had aligned their exams to Common Core standards or “other college- and career-readiness standards,” and that 10 more planned to do so.
However, a recent analysis by the Education Commission of the States of exit exam requirements for the Class of 2015 and beyond show nearly half the states with exit exam policies have either moved away from a single, standardized graduation test to end-of-course assessments or some combination of the two.
Georgia made headlines earlier this month when Gov. Nathan Deal signed into a law a bill that retroactively invalidates the state’s high school exit exam back to 1994, making diplomas available to the more than 8,000 students who never passed it.
A similar bill was signed into law in South Carolina last summer, retroactively eliminating the state’s high school exit exam back to 1990 and allowing those who did not pass the opportunity to petition their local school boards for their diplomas.
Mississippi and New York are in the process of restructuring their exit exam policies as is Texas, where an estimated 28,100 seniors are at risk of not graduating this year.
The California legislation, authored by Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, that would suspend the state’s exit exam also calls on education officials to reconsider how students in the state are deemed not only ready to graduate but to lead productive lives afterward.
The question of whether to issue diplomas retroactively did come up when the bill was being drafted, according to a Liu staffer, but the provision was not included in the legislation.
Opponents of handing out diplomas retroactively to thousands of people who failed the test argue that it’s not necessary because there are several opportunities to continue retaking it, even years after graduation, and doing so cheapens the value of the diploma as a gauge for prospective employers.
Others, however, say these one-time exams provide little evidence that the person passing them is academically prepared for college and/or career.
Indeed, despite a 95.5 percent passing rate for California seniors last year, a study by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that over 50 percent of the state’s high school students are in need of remedial work when they arrive at community colleges.
“Doing away with exit exams has now become a trend because the evidence is clear that they are not doing the job they were designed to do,” said FairTest’s Neill. “Research shows that exit exams do not improve college enrollment or job readiness.”