California May Drop High School Exit Test

Politicians and school administrators in California, anticipating that 20% or more of high school seniors will fail the state’s high school exit exam, are about to back down on testing as a requirement for graduation.

In other states, mobs of angry test-failers and their families have failed to kill standardized testing as a requirement for graduation. But they might succeed in weakening standards.

In Massachusetts and Florida, 2003 is the first year students are being denied high school diplomas because of their failure to pass state exams. As of press time, California, Virginia and Alaska still face a 2004 deadline to bring seniors up to snuff.

All over the country similar sob stories are being published in major newspapers, all beginning with an anecdote about a student who gets A’s and B’s at the local public high school, but just can’t pass the exit test and therefore won’t graduate.

Liberal activists have been encouraging test-failers and their parents in several states to campaign vigorously in opposition to the standards.

In California, where the law required all high school students starting with the class of 2004 to pass an exit test, liberals look like they are going to succeed. With the blessing of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and most state legislators, the state Board of Education is poised to delay implementation of the exam to 2006. Prior to the test’s last administration, in March, only 48% of the class of 2004 had passed the exam.

But California’s action will not help students, said Krista Kafer of the Heritage Foundation. These tests, she said, are supposed to help failers by highlighting their weakness and giving occasion for remedy.

“You can keep these kids in for a year longer, have them do summer classes, have them do something so that they can actually graduate with a real diploma,” said Kafer. “Otherwise, they’re just getting a diploma, but they don’t have skills and knowledge. That’s going to come back to haunt them.”

There is nothing to stop California from pushing its testing requirement back to 2006 or abolishing it entirely. The federal program setting educational standards-the so-called “No Child Left Behind” law-does not require testing for graduation.

In Florida-where 12,500 students stand to be denied diplomas for failing the exit test (the FCAT)-2,500 protesters mobbed the office of Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in May. So far, Bush has stood up to their threats to boycott orange juice and stop playing the state lottery.

But he has agreed in principle to sign a bill that would allow students to substitute decent scores on the SAT or ACT for passing the state’s own test.

Bush claims that scores on this year’s FCAT demonstrate a dramatic improvement in Florida schools. On June 18, he announced a 20% increase over 2002 in the number of “A” and “B” schools-the top grades in the state education auditing system.

In Massachusetts, some local education officials threatened to give diplomas to test-failers after about 5,000 seniors did not pass the state’s MCAS test. They backed down, however, when state officials threatened to cut off funding and fire them from their jobs. Even though his predecessor, former Gov. Paul Celucci (R.), was attacked over the MCAS issue, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney has vowed to veto any legislation loosening the test’s requirements.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D.)-unlike his California counterpart-is not wavering either in his adherence to the Virginia standards. Instead of delaying next year’s testing, he has called for a pilot program to prepare students at risk for failure.

In Nevada, which has required testing for graduation since 1998, 2,195 students are expected not to graduate this year because they have not passed the test, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack McLaughlin told HUMAN EVENTS.

A May 31 Washington Post article on that state’s test mentioned complaints that “many students-as many as 40% statewide-have never taken algebra or geometry, which are included on the test.” Asked by HUMAN EVENTS how students can graduate high school without taking algebra or geometry, McLaughlin said, “That’s because some of them had been advised by their counselors not to take them, because they don’t need those to graduate.”

After the first year of the test, he said, the state legislature lowered the cut-off score by about 5%. But the cut-off will inch back to its original point by 2007.

McLaughlin also noted that Nevada high school students have seven opportunities to take the test, beginning in April of their sophomore year, and that students can continue taking the test after their scheduled graduation, if necessary.