Thursday, April 07, 2005

Assemblywoman Bass on Exit Exams

Opposing view: Make the exit exam one among several measures of skills

By Karen Bass
Thursday, April 7, 2005
Assemblywoman Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, is responding to The Bee's editorial "Retain exit exam / Diploma should mean something," which appeared March 21.

The Sacramento Bee mischaracterized legislation I am proposing. AB 1531 would not eliminate the high school exit exam; the bill simply calls for the exam to be one of several measures used to determine if a student has mastered high-school level course work. With so many attempts under way to improve California's educational system, we have to ask ourselves what the goal of the exit exam really is.

If it is to ensure students demonstrate competency in basic high school curriculum, then there should be more than a single test to measure skills.

According to the Stanford school of education, 25 states have passed legislation requiring a high school exit exam. But only eight of those states do not consider other performance information for a diploma. In some cases, districts use a combination of state exams and local performance assessments - along with grades, portfolios and teacher recommendations. School districts in Maine, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania combine results from local performance assessments with state assessments for graduation decisions.

Research is divided about the impact of the high school exit exam on the dropout rate. But even the study The Bee cited notes that school districts in Massachusetts, Texas and New York - under pressure to improve test scores as required by the "No Child Left Behind Act" - encouraged low-performing students to leave school and pursue a GED. A Harvard study released last month found that devastating numbers of African American (43 percent) and Latino (40 percent) children do not finish high school.

We cannot afford to drive more students out of school. Nor should we put districts and administrators under pressure that could result in even more students leaving our high schools without a diploma and the skills required to achieve their best.

If our goal in California is to measure competency in basic skills and curriculum, then we should take advantage of the research and experience of other states and adopt a comprehensive approach that includes multiple methods of assessing competency. This would result in a higher standard and greater accountability than that afforded by a single exam.

this op ed piece provided by the office of Assemblywoman Bass.
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