Saturday, October 01, 2005

Playing "Chicken" With California's Parents And Kids

Remember back in 1999 when California was announcing that high school students were going to be required to pass an exit exam before being awarded their diplomas? We never believed for a moment that the state would stick with that one. We were right, as Realpolitik would never allow it:
California's top education official said Friday that he would be willing to consider alternatives to the mandatory high school exit exam for students who can't pass, after a state-mandated study found a fifth of the class of 2006 hadn't passed the test by 11th grade.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said a team from the Department of Education would investigate options for students who are unable to pass the California High School Exit Exam in the wake of Friday's report by Human Resources Research Organization, a Virginia-based firm that assesses the test annually.

Students in the class of 2006 are the first who are required to pass the assessment of their math and English skills before they can receive a diploma.

The review found that around 100,000 students didn't pass the test by the end of 11th grade. The success rates in both English and math were lower for minority and lower-income students. They have three more opportunities to take the test in their senior year.

O'Connell's agreement to review alternatives is a change of heart for the superintendent who helped draft the original exam. But he would not consider anything that would water down the standards, CDE spokeswoman Hilary McLean said.

Friday's report concluded that the state should follow through with its plan to make the test mandatory this year, but come up with specific options for kids who can't pass by the end of this school year.

The report also found that poor students or those who failed once were more likely to make an extra effort to prepare the next time.
See the actual report right here.

The piece's punchline is in that penultimate paragraph where the spokeswoman indicated that Superintendent O'Connell "wouldn't consider anything that would water down the standards."

So many kids not collecting their diplomas would result in a huge political firestorm that would cut across all party lines as parents of college-bound students (who would suddenly not be college-bound) would mobilize en masse to apply political pressure at the grass-roots level on the state assembly to repeal the law and allow students who had flunked the test to collect their diplomas while on their way to the college or university of their choice.

For the record, we don't much care for the idea of a "must pass exit exam." There is something in my gut that just tells me that such an examination would be inherently unfair to those students who were compelled to attend failed schools.

That doesn't mean that I don't think that a high school diploma should mean something. It should. A diploma should mean that the bearer has achieved a certain level of mastery in the core areas of reading comprehension, composition, math, science, and history.

I'm just not sure that an "all or nothing" type of test is the best method to use.

Perhaps a system of "ranked diplomas" might be better. Students who scored "X" percentile on an examination could be awarded the much-coveted diploma of the "First Rank." (Select better sounding name here.) Students who obtained lower scores could be awarded diplomas of the Second Rank, Third Rank, etc.

Students who fail to obtain even minimal passing scores (while finishing the course of study) could be awarded "Certificates of Completion," which would allow them to enroll in colleges and universities. Through hard work, such students could earn traditional college degrees, thereby rendering the lack of a high school diploma a non-factor in the student's subsequent professional and academic endeavors.

Over at Number 2 Pencil, Kimberly has some thoughts on the subject.

The folks over at The North County Times think the adults need to take an exam.

Maybe they should.
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