copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert
Please also peruse Dropout Nation; Communities Can Cure The Silent Student Epidemic. The causes and effects of “dropping out” are explored in greater detail in that treatise.
In California, students are crushed by the weight of exit exams. Some feel defeated. After numerous failures on test after test, pupils presume, rather than make another attempt, it is best to just dropout. In 2006, 24,000 high school seniors dropped out, about 10,000 more than just four years earlier.
Nationwide, the number of dropouts is staggering; however, in states that require the ever-popular exit exams the rate rises steadily.
HighSchool Exit Exams Linked to Higher Dropout Rates, Researchers Find
By David Glenn
Since 1979, a growing number of states have required high school students to pass exit examinations before they can receive diplomas. For nearly as long, scholars and policy makers have debated whether such exams do more harm than good.
Proponents of exit exams say they improve learning and future employment by giving both students and school districts better incentives to succeed. Skeptics say the exams needlessly prevent students who have otherwise completed all their course work from receiving diplomas. They also warn that the exams could prompt some students to drop out of high school as early as the 10th or 11th grade, if they think they will fail the tests.
The latest battleground over the issue is California . . .
Now two teams of scholars have written papers that support the more harm than good thesis. In a recent working paper, Thomas S. Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College, and Brian A. Jacob, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University, reported that students in states with relatively easy exit exams are roughly 4 percent more likely to drop out of high school than similar students in states with no exams. In states with relatively difficult exit exams, students are 5.5 percent more likely to drop out than their counterparts in states with no exams.
The effects are stronger among African American men, Mr. Dee and Mr. Jacob found. In states with easy exit exams, black male students are 5.2 percent more likely to drop out of high school than their counterparts in states with no exit exams. In states with more rigorous exit exams, they are 7.3 percent more likely to drop out than are their counterparts in states with no exit exams.
Those that struggle to do well yet miss the mark by a point, two, or twenty must not be college material, or so a disheartened adolescent is led to believe. Tens of thousands of distraught pupils give up on themselves just as their elders have done. Young academics that do not measure up on exit exams often conclude they are misfits; they do not seem to fit in a society that demands they meet agreed upon standards, as senseless and biased as these standards might be.
The force of mandated exams looms large over the heads of want-to-be High School graduates. Beginning in the sophomore year, young academics are required to test for graduation. Examinations focus on math, English, and algebra skills. Formulaic solutions are featured. There is no need to think deeply when faced with standardized Scantron™ answer forms. Indeed, if a learner ruminates intensely they may be penalized. Time is of the utmost importance. Those that administer the exam remind test-takers you either know the correct answer or you do not. If uncertain move on. Your overall score matters most.
Critical thought can consume minutes, hours, days, and months. High School curriculums have no time for such an exercise. Analysis is not crucial if a pupil wishes to advance. A learner is considered capable if they are able to choose the correct bubble and completely blacken the circle. Results are recorded for posterity. Granted, pupils have multiple chances to pass the mandated multiple-choice examinations. However, if a student cannot deliver after six attempts, they are done. They have “failed”
Policymakers presume they have given pupils an equal chance. They think it irrelevant that the assessment rarely relates to the life of a student or the lessons received in class. It matters not that individual learning styles are ignored or that a learners language skills are not considered. When the school determines it is apt, a student is placed in a room and told “Perform.”
Administrators’ demand or command excellence. The date, or the dilemmas that teens cope with daily is not averaged into the grade. What occurred on that day, at that time, in that year, or within the institution are not considered applicable in calculations. When it is convenient for the school, students must achieve.
Reach for the gold star. Grab the brass ring. Success will be yours. Pencils down. Pooh! Failed again.
Confronted with a curriculum that does not meet the needs of the student population, or of a particular pupil, many young scholars are overwhelmed with fear. Apprehension alone is enough to affect achievement. Language barriers also boggle a mind.
For a 16-year-old, Iris Padilla’s resume looks pretty good: Not only is she already a senior close to completing all the credits needed to graduate from Richmond High, she’s president of a Latin American culture club and is active in political and religious clubs at school. Next year, Iris wants to go to college and study psychology.
But Richmond High might not let her graduate this spring.
That’s because Iris hasn’t passed the exit exam, and she has only one more chance before graduation day to tackle the two-day test, on March 21-22.
Iris is one of 73,270 California high school seniors in the same pickle — unable to fulfill a new state law requiring students to pass a test of basic English, math, and algebra to graduate. That’s 1 in 5 members of the state’s Class of 2006, says the state Department of Education.
More than half of those who still need to pass — 40,002 students — are like Iris: They don’t speak much English.
Iris Padilla is a superior student. Any college would welcome a young woman so dedicated to her education, and to her community. Perchance, in an institution of higher learning faculty and facilitators understand that, typically it takes seven years to acquire fluency in a foreign language. A University may give Iris Padilla the opportunity to truly acquire English language skills. However,, we may never know, for the young woman may not have the chance to apply to one of the many ivory towers, although she has prepared to do so all of her life.
Iris is a disciplined scholar as are most in her precarious situation. The vast majority of teenagers that cannot pass the exit examinations have hopes, dreams, and drive.
Her school day begins at 7:30 a.m. with an exit-exam prep class in math. Then it’s on to geometry, economics, computer graphics, world history, and an English-language class. She is passing them all. After school, Iris attends another prep class for the English portion of the test.
Her teacher, Isidora Martinez-McAfee, has been teaching English to newcomers in the same classroom for 30 years and has seen most of them graduate, and many go on to college.
“Some have become dentists, hygienists, nurses, psychologists, teachers,” said Martinez-McAfee.
But now, she fears, students like Iris will stagnate.
With one month left to go before her final shot at passing the exit exam, Iris still finds an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem on the practice test impenetrable, and word problems in math as clear as Greek.
Does that mean Iris should be barred from walking across the graduation stage with her classmates, or that she should receive an empty envelope when theirs contains a diploma?
State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, who wrote the exit exam law in 1999 while a state senator, calls it “immoral” to award diplomas to students who can’t pass the test.
Time, narrowly-focused-dogmatic-dictatorial bureaucrats, and those that profit from the policies these legislators devise are not on the side of students such as Iris. American-born Iris Padilla [and others] is punished upon her return to the homeland. Iris Padilla, for most of her life lived with her Grandmother in Mexico. She came back to her mother’s home only months before she shared her story with Journalist Nanette Asimov. Iris may not receive a diploma. Dependant on the District, she too may be defined as a dropout. The dropout crisis is, in many ways, contrived.
To complicate matters, dropout rates do not simply or directly translate to an accurate graduation rate. Multiple methods and definitions can result in what appears to be conflicting information. For example, it is possible to have a low rate of dropout based on event or status calculations, and to have a low rate of graduation as well. The formula and parameters (e.g., age, grade, accountability period) used to determine the rate must be carefully considered and explained . . .
A focus on measuring graduation rates is conceptually linked to recent increased emphasis on the importance of promoting student engagement to enhance school completion. However, due to lack of standardized definitions and methods for computing dropout rates and graduation rates, interpretation must be carefully considered. Until a standard procedure is established and used across districts, states, and national reporting agencies, reports of dropout and graduation rates can be interpreted accurately only when accompanied by explanations of how the numbers were derived.
Rarely are the numbers reflective of what occurs within a school, a District, or a State. While elders stress accountability for students, they, themselves are not held to a rigid standard. It behooves an educational facility to filter out those that lower the ranking. No Child Left Behind laws put Administrators in a position to choose. Punish the student or punish the school. Most prefer to penalize the youngster.
Administrators might justify such an act. After all, America needs an unskilled labor force. Those without a high school diploma can fill those slots. Besides, once out of the system they have one more opportunity to take the exit exam. Thus, there is no reason to worry if students dropout.
If a pupil cannot pass the exam after five tries while enrolled, then financially, it is better for the institution if that student is no longer counted in the final tally. Federal officials will not fund underperforming schools. Sanctions are progressively more punitive each year. Hence, a school benefits when those registered are able to do well on standardized tests.
Affluent parents pour millions into test preparation classes. Online training is also available; however, that too costs money. Some schools also supplement schedules to accommodate students in need of more guidance. This helps those that have access to such assistance. However, sadly many students do not have this luxury.
A young person that receives no one-on-one instruction at home or at school often feels lost and fears stating this aloud. Peers can be cruel. Yet, if parents are absent, away at a one job or another, children are left to fend for themselves. The economically poor child is poorer still. A Mom or Dad working multiple jobs cannot give a child the attention instruction demands. An underprivileged parent is frequently of meager means because they are undereducated. The two characteristics collide and all in close proximity feel the impact.
Based on the most careful calculation of graduation rates and the longest time span, this study concluded that exit exams, and particularly the more difficult exams, did reduce high school completion rates by about 2.1 percentage points. Furthermore, the negative effects of exams were larger in states with high rates of poverty and with more racially and ethically diverse student populations. This conclusion reinforces results from other studies indicating that test score results and passing rates vary substantially by race, ethnicity and income.
Young persons without the tools, left alone at home, must rely on teachers to teach them. Most educators are preoccupied, too many pupils, too many tests. Thus, a frustrated teenager flits and flitters. Angst filters through the mind and body of an eager scholar stressed to the limit. Trepidation coupled with confusion does more than merely aggravate an academic. Aspiring adolescents in California conclude, it is better to give up, dropout, and forfeit a diploma.
California Exit Exam Boosts Dropout Numbers
By Juliet Williams
November 8, 2007
Sacramento, Calif. (AP) – The number of California high school dropouts spiked in 2006, the first year seniors were required to pass an exit exam to graduate, according to a report presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education.
The analysis found that 24,000 high school seniors dropped out in 2006, about 10,000 more than just four years earlier.
The information could give ammunition to lawmakers and others who have criticized the exam, as well as those who have lobbied for alternative assessments.
Currently, politicians and policymakers decide how we might evaluate learning. These persons are rarely if ever trained professional teachers. Nor do most recall life as a student. Superintendents, Commissioners, community leaders ignore or forget what they once knew. Intelligence and knowledge are fluid. Statistical calculations are fixed.
A child develops; wisdom expands. Under stress, growth is stunted; intelligence wanes. We struggle to access acumen when placed in a situation that breeds anxiety.
Children learn well when they are not forced fed. So too do adults. Contemplate the myriad of facts you gathered quickly. When a topic was of interest to you personally, you seized the vital statistics with vigor. Consider the data you forgot over the years. Records memorized only to recite back on a test, soon fade from memory.
The wonks may want us to believe that instructors can teach to a test and children will learn. However, when we study, what has no meaning for more than a moment, we internalize little if any of what was placed before us.
Insight is accrued slowly. Erudition is a process. A portfolio of work demonstrates the evolution known as scholarship. Experts in education understand this.
The firm that prepared the report, Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va., made several recommendations to the board, including a suggestion that California explore other ways for high school seniors to demonstrate proficiency. In Massachusetts and Washington State, for example, students can be judged on a portfolio of their high school work.
However, in most other regions enlightenment is delayed. Emissaries and executives look on from outside the classroom. They decide what is best for those in schools. When the voices within educational system dissent, the sound they make is often muffled. At times, there is a small victory. Overall, little changes.
Exit Exam Challenged!
POOR Magazine Youth intern who didn’t pass the Exit Exam reviews the legal challenges that were recently decided on.
Antonio William/PNN Youth in Media?
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
“How can they talk about us standing on corners, using drugs, we are hard-working students trying to get an education,” a Latina Richmond High School Student wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke into the corporate media lens. She was speaking outside a school board hearing in April on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).
Earlier this month two major legal challenges to the CAHSEE were heard and adjudicated on in California courts. The first one: Liliana Valenzuela, et al v. Jack O’Connell, which was fought by attorneys Arturo Gonzalez and Chris Young from Morrison and Foerster on the basis of the educational, due process and equal protection rights afforded to students under the California Constitution. We won this one. Alameda County Judge Robert Freedman decided on Friday May 11th to delay diploma denial for the class of 2006.
When issuing the injunction, Freedman said he was swayed by Gonzalez’s argument that low-income of color students, English language learners in particular attend low-performing schools that do not prepare them adequately for the test.
Of the 46,700 seniors who have failed the test, 20,600 are designated as limited English learners and 28,300 are very lo-income. I am one of those 28,300 students.
Progress is slow, be it in learning, or in policy making. We accept and expect adult practices to be measured. As a culture, we believe that change must calculated. The pace need be unhurried and deliberate. However, in the area of education, we want assessments to be completed without delay. The process quick and is dirty. Children are damaged by the experience. Still, the need to be saturated with statistics is honored and gratified.
We have all heard the ancient axiom that discredits educators. It seems the general public, Boards, Judges, and legislators believe anyone can do what most dare not, enter a classroom full of twenty, thirty, or forty unique, excited, expectant young persons and make a significant difference. The accepted adage is, ‘Those that cannot teach.’ Thus, educators have no power to determine the curriculum. Teachers are trained to oversee tests. That is the way their superiors like it.
Jack O’Connell, superintendent of public instruction, has consistently opposed such an [alternative] option.
Exit exams remain a requisite for High school graduation. The practice is profitable for publishers and other adult professionals, [not for pupils.] Mega millions are spent on improving evaluative systems.
Hidden Costs Present Challenges
The costs are considerable for a state, as well as individual school districts, to put in place a high school exit exam and help students meet the standards required by the test. For example, it costs Indiana, a state with an exit exam of average difficulty, $557 per student to maintain the state’s current level of performance on the exam, according to the Center on Education Policy.
The argument is that if a student is well prepared the cost of remediation will be reduced. However, there is no need for further instruction after graduation if a child is taught well initially. Society invests little in schools in poorer neighborhoods, less on quality teachers for impoverished pupils, and even less on the students that sit in inadequate classrooms, and it shows. Pupils trapped in an inner city ghetto help us to see the stark differentiation between the best of conditions and the worse. Without well-educated parents to supplement a child’s education at home, the outcome for a student is dire. Impoverished students suffer the consequences of their birth and station.
The report’s findings validate the argument that the test is hardest on students who do not have access to good schools or good teachers, said Liz Guillen, director of legislative and community affairs for the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates. That applies mostly to poor and minority students, she said . . .
The report also highlights California’s persistent achievement gap and found an even more worrisome problem: Students who are black, Hispanic, poor or learning English did even worse when they were in schools with high concentrations of similar students.
The disparity between the haves and “have-nots” is daunting. The separation between the socio-economic classes is broad and widens. As we assess dropout rates, we can see that city school students are far more likely to drop than suburban scholars are.
Perhaps, exit exams have a purpose, albeit financial. Institutions gain when students are encouraged to forfeit a diploma. If those that struggle to pass the required assessment dropout, the percentage that graduate appears higher. The books are “legitimately” cooked.
Thus, the accountability standards designated by No Child Left Behind are achieved. Conveniently, children left behind fill the ranks of the lower caste. American society remains stable; the status quo is preserved. The haves are served and the have-nots continue to dream the impossible.
We may think we are comfortable as long as we, and our progeny, graduate. However, there are repercussions, not only for the children, but also for society as a whole. When a nation breeds a poor population, we give rise to generational poverty, people in need of assistance. This can burden a community, as well as bring about greater resentment, rebellion, and ultimately to increased societal ills, physical, emotional, intellectual. Welfare is but a singular, isolated, and the smallest consequence of poverty.
The community, as a whole, suffers when we do not care for each other. Wages fall. There is less opportunity to work. Physical and mental well-beings are threatened. Poverty is a shared load. It taxes individuals, institutions, and neighborhoods. The effects of impoverishment may be more evident among the young. Sadly, the weakest among us, from birth, are lumped together in underperforming schools. Through them, we might better diagnosis what affects us all.
[T]he vast majority of underachieving students are concentrated in such [poor] schools [with minority populations.]
Most students are able to pass the exam in time for graduation, although critics note that as graduation day approaches more students drop out of school and stop being counted.
Poor and minority students help to remind us what occurs when we ignore or deny sound pedagogical principles. Children must be taught and tested in a manner that mirrors the way they learn. The acquisition of knowledge internalized occurs over time. Elucidation occurs when we meet people where they live. Attention to learning modalities matters.
If a pupil acquires best information when active, we must provide them with opportunities to produce. Then, we can evaluate the product. Educators must recall the maxim, “Practice makes perfect.'” One project completed does not equate to scholarship. The process, the progression affirms full comprehension. When an individual has a foundation, they are able to create anew. That is excellence.
If a child acquires knowledge aurally, that option must also be available. Appraisals for such a child need to also accommodate this learning modality. Once more, a young person cannot be accurately evaluated on one occasion. We each are a mixture of moments. Any of us may excel in the morning and fade in the afternoon, or vice versa. We cannot be sure what a day will bring. We can be certain that if we evaluate a pupil frequently, if a young academic is challenged to grow at their own pace, in a manner that meets their needs ultimately, they will do well.
Again, a collection of work helps us to understand how a child performs in various conditions. No one of us is ever the same in every moment. We may do well with a good night’s rest, with sufficient food in our belly, and if we have had ample and exceptional opportunities to associate ourselves with the material. However, even all these advantages will not compensate for what occurs on any given day. Word of a parents’ divorce, a death in the family, or just dread can doom a thinker to failure.
We all have feelings. Perchance we, as a society, might realize our emotions often lead us to defeat. Great angst felt at the prospect of a test, one that could shape our future and cause us to fail. Indeed, it probably will.
There’s no doubt that today students are under intense pressure to perform academically, but at what cost? The Institute of HeartMath® (www.heartmath.org) and Claremont Graduate University (www.cgu.edu) released a new study that depicts the high levels of anxiety students are shouldering due to the pressure to excel intellectually. Nearly two-thirds of the high school students who participated in the study reported being affected by test anxiety. The study underscores the detrimental impact of test anxiety on academic performance. Based on their findings, researchers say that students’ high levels of anxiety may jeopardize NCLB assessment validity and could be compromising testing results.
HeartMath researchers explain that feelings of anxiety drive up the level of “noise” or mental static to such a pitch that it overloads the circuits in the brain needed for paying attention, learning, focusing, and remembering.
Dr. Rollin McCraty, lead researcher on the study and director of research for the Institute of HeartMath, says, “When students are anxious about their test performance, their brain doesn’t function efficiently. They can look at a test question and literally not see certain words, become confused, or miss the meaning of a question. They can even miss seeing entire questions on the page.”
Hence, I plead. Policymakers, please understand, if we continue to assess our offspring in manners that befuddle them, threaten their sense of self, and serve only to generate a statistical base, we will alienate those we depend on most, our children. The young are our future. Do we really wish to throw them out of the schools and onto the streets? I hope not.
Some may see the poorest among us a disposable, dispensable, or expendable. They are not. Those that consider their children a priority and lessen the worth of the poor have yet to do the math. Compassion aside, we all pay the price for poverty.
A community is the sum total of the parts. If the elite do not invest in the education of impoverished youth, the cost incurred by all will be high. An unskilled, under-educated laborer is less likely to be secure in their employment. Wages for manual and menial work is low. Transitions affect economic stability. Uneducated employees may not have adequate health care. Bargaining for benefits is easier when you have an education to stand on. The shared cost of medical services alone takes a toll on the rates we each pay. Increased crime is a possibility we must consider. The effects of emotions expand. No one can predict with certainly what will become of our High School dropouts.
I invite educators and parents alike to advocate for the youth of America. Put yourself in the place of your progeny. Please do not be punitive and pedantic. Provide for our pupils. Bequeath them equal opportunities to progress over time in a manner that matches who they are. Let us not endorse artificial proofs of learning. May we empathize and embrace young minds while they are still in school. Policymakers, please drop in to our schools and experience the devastation exit exams reap before our children drop out.
Schools Days, Rigid Rules, and References . . .Dropout Nation: What’s Wrong With America’s High Schools? By Nathan Thornburgh. Time Magazine. Sunday, April 09, 2006
pdf Dropout Nation: What’s Wrong With America’s High Schools? By Nathan Thornburgh. Time Magazine. Sunday, Apr. 09, 2006
High-School Exit Exams Boom, but Students Still May Be Unready for College. The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 6, 2007
High School Exit Exams Linked to Higher Dropout Rates, Researchers Find By David Glenn. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2006
Exit exam a test of determination, Language barrier adds unfair burden, critics say of requirement. By Nanette Asimov. San Francisco Chronicle. SF Gate. Monday, February 27, 2006
New analysis finds serious flaws in recommendations for high school exit exams. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association. 2007
How are Dropout Rates Measured? What are Associated Issues? National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET).
The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning, The Concept of Being At-Risk. The Art and Science of Teaching with Technology®
Poverty and Community. A New Discussion for the New Millenium. By Jeff Faux. Economic Policy institute. May 1, 1998
Exit Exam Challenged! POOR Magazine Youth intern who didn’t pass the Exit Exam reviews the legal challenges that were recently decided on. By Antonio William. PNN Youth in Media. Poor Magazine. Wednesday, May 24, 2006;
Learning Modalities: Pathways to Effective Learning, By Dr. Patricia Hutinger. Public Brocasting Services Teachers.
New Study Raises Concerns about Current Test-Taking Requirements. The Institute of HeartMath® and Claremont Graduate University.
Exit exam eludes some, By Fermin Leal, Erica Perez, and Sam Miller. The Orange County Register. November 28, 2006
Overview of Second Language Acquisition. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. 2003
High school dropouts earn far less money, By Ben Feller. Boston Globe. September 12, 2006
Unemployment level of college grads surpasses that of high-school dropouts. Economic Policy Institute. 2004