Lowering Exit Exam Standards So More Students Can Pass

In the book, “Freakenomics”  the authors asked what do teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common.  The answer is they both cheat.  I guess the authors should include state education departments as well.

According to an article appearing in the New York Times, 26 states fearing that many of their students which use exit exams for graduation have softened standards, delayed the requirement or added alternative paths to a diploma.  The exams affect two-thirds of the nation’s public school students.

In 2008, state officials in Alabama, Arizona and Washington delayed the start of the exit exam requirement and lowered standards after seeing that many students, including a disproportionate number of minorities, would fail the tests.

Many states have faced lawsuits over the proposed requirements amid accusations that the tests are unfair to students with disabilities, non-native speakers of English and students attending schools with fewer educational resources.

These concerns have been bolstered by recent studies that indicate that the exams lead to increased dropout rates by one or two percentage points.

In 2007-8 the state of Pennsylvania  had more than 20,000 public high school graduates who enrolled in a public higher education institution required some form of remedial help, with a total cost to taxpayers, students and parents in excess of $26 million.  Pennsylvania opted in October to allow school districts to substitute their own versions of the exit exams, with state approval, and to give students who fail multiple times alternative paths to graduation.

The rules in Pennsylvania require students to pass at least four courses, with the end-of-course exams counting for a third of the course grade. If students fail an exam or a section of an exam, they will have two chances to retake it. If they cannot pass after that, they have the option of doing a subject-specific project that is approved by district officials.

The exams are not cheap. Education officials in Pennsylvania estimate it will cost $176 million to develop and administer the tests and model curriculum through 2014-15, and about $31 million to administer each year after that.

Because individual school systems in Pennsylvania can substitute their own exams, state officials and experts do not consider Pennsylvania among the 26 states that have official exit exams.

Twenty-four states now use at least some part of the exams for federal accountability under the No Child Left Behind law, up from just two states in 2002, according to the center.

Eleven states use either a single comprehensive exam, or single exams in math and English, to evaluate what high school students have learned. The other 15 — including Massachusetts, New York and Texas — use end-of-course tests on multiple subjects. This approach tends to face less opposition because the incremental tests can be more easily linked to course content and can be used more directly to increase rigor in coursework.

Also among those states using end-of-course exams is Arkansas, where seventh, eighth or ninth graders will this year for the first time be required to pass the end-of-course Algebra I test to qualify for a diploma.

Critics of Arkansas’s system say it fails to show true math proficiency because students have only to score 24 out of 100 to pass the test and those who fail will be granted two additional chances to take the test. After that, they can take a computerized tutorial that is followed by a test.
As deadlines have neared, the opposite concern has led many states to lower or delay their requirements.  In Arizona, lawmakers extended a law in 2008 that was supposed to expire that permitted students who failed the exam to graduate if they met certain grade requirements.

If states really want to measure achievement data, they need to enforce the rules they accepted at the outset of accepting standards.  They would not accept rules   changed when a team was approaching the goal line.