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Back to June Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 281 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JUNE 2009

Californians Argue Over Exit Exam
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Standards-oriented administrators and state legislators fought an uphill battle to institute an exit exam as a requirement for graduation from California high schools. Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who ran on a platform of reform, led the charge. According to O'Connell, the exam "plays an important role in our work to ensure that a high school diploma has meaning."

The exam has been required for graduation since 2007, but the battle goes on, especially as a recent report from researchers at Stanford University and UC Davis urged the Department of Education to scrap the test. The report looked at data from students who took the test in four large California school districts. According to researchers, the test caused a disproportionate decline in the numbers of minority and female students who were able to graduate. Researchers blamed a phenomenon they called "stereotype threat" — a theory in social psychology which posits that negative stereotypes can actually create the low achievement they predict.

The study concluded that the exam "had no positive effect on student achievement." State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said the study "reinforces concerns that many of us have had about the exit exam from its inception."

Deb Sigman, Deputy Superintendent for Assessment and Accountability, took issue with the study's conclusions, saying, "I'm not ready to agree with that at all." Sigman pointed out that the researchers "[didn't] look at grades, they [didn't] look at classroom observation or interviews with children."

The test sets an extremely low bar for high school graduation: students can take it multiple times beginning in 10th grade, and they need only a 60% on the English section to pass it, and a 55% on the math section. The English section is aligned to California's 10th-grade standards, and the math section is aligned to the state's 8th-grade standards. (Los Angeles Times, 4-22-09)


 
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