Sunday, April 16, 2006

Exit Exam is academic straitjacket

Exit exam is academic straitjacket

By Don Arnstine -- Special To The Bee
Published 2:15 am PDT Sunday, April 16, 2006

What a shame. At the beginning of the school year more than 90,000 seniors had not passed the exit exam. But according to the school district's consultant, there's just no alternative to the exit exam. So these 90,000 souls who faithfully attended public schools for 12 years, passed their courses and did what they were told must keep taking the exit exam (for which there is no legitimate substitute) until a miracle occurs and they pass it.
So who wrote the exit exam? It was a collection of consultants, panelists and "experts." All of them educators, but none of whom ever actually met the children who will have to take the exam.

Why on earth should every child in the state of California be obligated to acquire a specific fund of information selected by strangers who never even met them, their parents or their teachers? We would have to assume that students, teachers and parents in California have no idea of what's worth learning.

There are two very serious shortcomings in California's high school exit exam. First, the content that is tested for represents only a small fraction of all that's worth learning, and the insistence that everyone learn this content means that students will never have the opportunity to learn anything else - including what interests them.

Second, when all students must take the same exam they will, sooner or later, be expected to study the same curriculum, the same courses, the same knowledge. The successful student, the one who wins the college scholarship, will be the one with the highest scores on the exam. It will not be the creative student, the one with a rich imagination or the one who has explored a subject in depth and has learned more about it than even her teacher knows. When the curriculum is determined by exams, nothing will be learned by accident, or just for the satisfaction of knowing. Everything will be for the test.

The exit exam is an academic straitjacket. Schools and teachers must teach for whatever is on the exam. But is it the goal of public education to insure that every child in the state learn the same facts? And why should we take such satisfaction in this list of facts, rather than any other? Meanwhile, the things we wish all students would learn, like helping others, obeying the law, becoming involved citizens, are no longer included among our educational goals. All we want them to do is just pass the test.

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