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High School Exit Exams Are Still Needed

By Walt Gardner — June 12, 2015 1 min read
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There was a time when a high-school diploma meant something. But in an attempt to reduce the dropout rate, states have watered down the requirements. The result has been a loss of public confidence in the wherewithal that graduates possess. That’s why California’s decision to place a moratorium on its exit exam is troubling (“Don’t drop the high school exit exam,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 10).

In 2006, California required students to pass its exit exam in order to graduate. Critics maintained that the policy was unfair. But to whom? Students could take the test more than once beginning in the 10th grade. Moreover, its purpose was only to ensure that students had minimal skills in literacy and numeracy. It was never intended to assess college readiness.

I understand the lifelong consequences of dropping out of high school. But taxpayers are entitled to know if students are being well educated. Unlike the SAT, which is deliberately designed to rank students, high-school exit exams seek only to determine if students have learned the basics. Engineering score spread is not a consideration. I fail to see why that is unfair.

What was unreasonable, however, was the policy that required students starting in 2017 in the Los Angeles Unified School District to earn a C or better in college-prep courses necessary for admission to four-year state universities. Realizing that not all students had the interest or ability to apply, the board correctly reversed itself on June 9 (“L.A. Unified retreats on higher graduation standards,” Los Angeles Times, Jun. 10). Its decision was likely based on a recent analysis projecting that 53 percent of students were unlikely to meet the high standard.

Against this backdrop, I emphasize the need for all states to give greater support and respect for career and technical education. Demand for carpenters, electricians, plumbers and other tradesmen is growing, and so are the wages paid for their services (“Worker Shortage Hammers Builders,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 10). Yet we persist in the fiction that college is for everyone and that without a degree the future is bleak.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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