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Connecticut Panel Recommends Against High-School Exit Tests

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Saying a mandated exit test has "little merit," an advisory panel to the Connecticut Board of Education has recommended unanimously that the state not require high-school students to pass such a test to receive a diploma.

In a report presented to the board on Sept. 4, the Advisory Panel on Graduation and Course Requirements expressed concern that adopting a paper-and-pencil test of skills and information as a graduation requirement would make passing the test the maximum rather than the minimum expected of high-school seniors.

The result would be an undesirable "narrowing" of the curriculum and a lowering of expectations, said Joseph J. Cirasuolo, chairman of the panel and superintendent of the Clinton School District.

The 24-member panel of educators, business and political leaders, and citizens also argued that no single test could measure everything students should learn while in high school.

'Saturation Point'

The Connecticut panel's stance is counter to that of the substantial number of states that have in the last few years adopted exit tests for high-school graduation.

As of January 1985, 20 states had adopted such exams, and three had approved them as a local option, according to Chris Pipho, senior information specialist for the Education Commission of the States.

Mr. Pipho added, however, that the effectiveness of such tests is not known, and that the growth in their number may have reached "a saturation point."

"There's more concern now with higher-order thinking skills, with gifted and talented programs, with more graduation requirements," he said. "The emphasis seems to be away from minimum competency."

'Common Core'

In place of an exit test, the Connecticut panel suggested that a second board panel develop a "common core of learnings" that would be a "comprehensive reflection" of everything high-school students should know before they graduate.

The state department of education should then develop a variety of ways for districts to measure whether such learning has occurred, the report said, including the direct observation of students and an analysis of their classroom work.

"We are not trying to minimize the importance of tests," the panel stated in its report, "but we are concerned about how one test, a high-school exit test, could outweigh four years of appropriate and satisfactory work and four years of professional judgment on the part of educators. A state-mandated exit test has little merit."

The board discussed the recommendations of the panel but did not vote on them. It could take further action at its next meeting on Oct. 2, according to Chairman Abraham Glassman.

'Little Evidence'

In its report, the course-requirements panel concluded that there is "little evidence" for the perception that many high-school students "who can neither read nor write"4currently earn diplomas.

"We have very few students who end up graduating who have never passed Connecticut's minimum-competency test," said Mr. Cirasuolo.

That exam, which tests 9th graders in reading, language arts, writing, and mathematics, is used to identify individuals needing remedial instruction. Students do not have to pass it to graduate.

"In the urban districts of Connecticut, 98 percent of this year's seniors have passed the test," Mr. Cirasuolo said.

He added that the state will soon replace the minimum-competency test with a "mastery" testing program in grades 4, 6, and 8, which will be more difficult than the current testing program.

Standards Needed

Reaction to the report has been generally favorable. Mr. Glassman said he and other board members had favored the creation of an exit test when the board commissioned the panel in the spring of 1984. Although he still leans in that direction, he said, he could be "persuaded otherwise."

Neither Gov. William A. O'Neill nor the Connecticut Education Association has taken a position on the issue.

Commissioner of Education Gerald N. Tirozzi also said he initially favored an exit test but agreed that schools should not focus solely on minimum skills.

If the state can delineate a set of common learning outcomes for students and a way to measure them other than an exit test, Mr. Tirozzi said, he will support it.

But he said the state needs "a set of standards." The public's belief that too many students are graduating without the requisite skills is grounded in reality, he said, despite the panel's statements to the contrary.

No Two-Track Diplomas

The panel also voted against the creation of a special diploma to mark the accomplishments of students who excel in high school. Pan-el members felt such a diploma would make those received by the majority of students appear "inferior," Mr. Cirasuolo said.

Instead, the panel recommended that the state establish a governor's award for achievement that would go to about 3 percent of the graduating seniors, or about 1,000 students annually.

The awards would not be restricted to traditional academic achievement but also could be given to students who had demonstrated outstanding accomplishment in vocational and artistic endeavors, the panel suggested.

Some six states had adopted a dual-diploma system as of March, according to Mr. Pipho.

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