Thomas Elias: Will lawmakers deep-six exit exam?
November 28, 2016
No high school exit exams have been administered in California over the last two years, but the test is due to return in 2018, by which time it is to be reconfigured to conform with the math and language arts skills now being taught in public schools under the federally-inspired Common Core curriculum system.
This means that for at least the last two years, employers hiring new high school graduates haven't known for sure what they were getting. What's more, employers now considering adding to their payrolls folks who have graduated since the exam began in 2006 are in the same quandary, forced to hire blindly when it comes to knowing what applicants have learned.
That's because the same law that suspended the test while it's being redone also allowed diplomas to everyone who ever failed it but met all other graduation requirements. At the time, one large newspaper featured a happy-talk story about a young woman who repeatedly failed the math portion of the exam. She was suddenly free to pursue a registered nurse degree. Would you want to take drug doses calculated by this young woman?
Now the state's two-term schools superintendent Tom Torlakson wants to make this sort of situation permanent.
Torlakson told the state Board of Education in a memo that the exit exam long since outlived its usefulness as a performance screen. "California has embarked on a path toward preparing all students for college careers and life in the 21st Century through a focus on performance, equity and continuous improvement," he said. "This is a path where (local school boards) take on an increased role in designing the kindergarten through 12th grade educational structures and supports for students to reach their full potential. Because of the comprehensive resources now available to identify students in academic need at lower grades, (the exam) is no longer necessary."
Come on, Tom. You know just because a third-grader might be identified as needing help in science or math or English doesn't mean that kid will eventually learn anything in those subject areas. You know it doesn't hurt to take the exam, which was passed in its heyday by 95 percent of high schoolers.
Fortunately, Torlakson will not have the final say. It would take a vote of the Legislature and a signature from the governor to dump the exit exam for good. But in this politically correct era (at least in California), it's just possible that the fact remediation is available to students will trump the fact that not all students identified with needs ever avail themselves of the help they are now offered.
Testing remains the only way to weed out those who don't and thus prevent them from essentially duping potential future employers into assuming they know things they don't.
Even the story of the putative nurse illustrates how well the exit exam filled its main purpose while it was in use. That purpose was as a kind of certification that any high school graduate in the state could safely be assumed to know things that could not be presumed during the era of social promotion preceding its adoption in 2005.
Suspending the exam, as lawmakers did when they passed a bill by Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu of La Canada-Flintridge, unnecessarily ended that certainty. Even if the exam needed rewriting, there was no reason any rewrite required several years to perform. It easily could have been rewritten in less than a year, especially since the new Common Core curriculum was well-known and discussed for several years before California abandoned the exit exam.
The bottom line: Torlakson is flat wrong on this one. The exam should not be abandoned just because a relative few kids couldn't pass it. Rather, because students always had multiple chances at the test, those who fail on their first, second or even third try still can have plenty of time to study the subjects they failed and reverse their results.
There's no reason for other students not to get the benefits of passing the exam just because some are insufficiently motivated to improve.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit http://www.californiafocus.net