Controversies over High School Exit Exams

high school What could make more sense:  Since we send kids to school to learn, we give them at test to make sure they’re learning. And if they don’t pass the test, they don’t get a diploma and the school loses money.  Who could be against such a basic concept, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that high school exit exams have turned out to be one of the hottest controversies in public schools today. Although these types of tests did not begin with the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, his “No Child Left Behind” led to the expansion of exit exams, and escalated the controversies regarding them.  Today there are currently 29 states that make their students take a similar test.

So what are the controversies?  There are several.

  1. In some states, such as California with their California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), there are charges of racism.  These states point out that African Americans have a higher failure rate than Caucasians and Asians.  These states are being asked either to eliminate the exit exams or overhaul them in a way that takes into consideration black students’ unique learning requirements.
  2. Protests over the high number of students failing the tests in California, Florida (FCAT), Alabama (AHSGE) and Massachusetts (MCAS) has prompted some state legislators and school boards think about delaying the exams.  New York did this recently, delaying the Math A Regents test to give experts times to analyze what has been causing students’ poor performance on it.
  3. One approach that New Jersey and Pennsylvania have taken to address poor student performance on the exam has itself raised new controversy.  Specifically, they have begun offering differentiated diplomas based on test results.  That is, three students might all three get diplomas, yet all might have a diploma that indicates a different level of performance on the exam.
  4. One of the biggest controversies is the accusation that many schools are “teaching to the test.”  That is, rather than making sure that their students have a well-rounded education, teachers are emphasizing materials that they know will be on the exit exam.

For now, in more than half of the states, teens will continue to be required to demonstrate their learning on an exit exam like the AHSGE, CAHSEE, FCAT, GEE, GHSGT, GQE, and the OGT. However, the form that this evaluation takes will continue to be a source of contention for many years to come.

 

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