Exit exams are only a

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002

small part of the solution

Staff Editorial

March 5, 2001 10 PM

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Next week, students throughout the state, including those in the Pike County and Troy City School systems will be tested on whether or not they have amassed the knowledge necessary to graduate from high school.

Last year, newer, tougher exit exams were instituted in the state’s public schools in a move strongly endorsed by Alabama Department of Education Supt. Ed Richardson.

Testing students is vital to determine if they know what they are supposed to know, so in a sense, we support testing.

However we don’t think testing alone should prevent a student from graduation. After all, the tests shouldn’t be designed to test "what" the student knows as they are designed to test whether or not the student has been successfully taught. This may sound somewhat oxymoronic, but it’s not.

Students who fare poorly on exit exams haven’t proven anything other than they either didn’t know the answers to the test or that they didn’t know how to correctly mark the test’s answers. And it’s apparent to us from what we saw in Florida last November that we can’t take anything for granted.

Should it turn out that students don’t successfully complete the exit exams, does this alone indicate that the student should not earn a high school diploma?

We don’t think so.

But a failing grade on an exit exam does clearly show us something very important: that more review is essential before passing a student on to the graduation line.

For years people have made the argument that "some people don’t do well on standardized tests."

We agree. But those who don’t do well on these tests aren’t generally successful in college and in other areas where testing is used to determine their abilities. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen; it certainly does. Still, people who consistently fare well on these tests consistently succeed in higher education ­ at least on a more frequent basis than those who do not.

This may be because testing is part and parcel to attending college, testing for a future career, or even for getting a promotion in some businesses or fields.

So it makes perfect sense that the state with one of the poorest performance ratings in education has fallen back on exit exams. It certainly seems as if this is a good tool to measure our performance as leaders in the state, the school system, the school and the classroom. In essence, testing shows what we’re doing right and where we need to improve.

And it stands to reason that students who have made it to their senior year who still can’t perform basic mathematical tasks and write simple sentences shouldn’t move on.

But is it fair to punish the student who has been led on to the next grade like a horse with a carrot dangling in front of its nose, knowing that all it has to do is walk a little farther and it will be able to eat its prize? Not if that horse will never eat the carrot. Then it’s called baiting and it represents punishing the animal out of a desire to be cruel.

The same is true of students.

What do we mean? That teachers need to toughen up. That schools need to quit tolerating laziness and meager attempts at mediocrity among students. But how do we do this with consent decrees mandating that certain percentages of minority groups get diplomas and that drop out and failure rates are evenly distributed among the races?

We don’t.

So we continue to pass failing students while we wait at the end to ambush them with an exit exam. And it’s a shame. These kinds of political tricks are hateful and shouldn’t be carried out on anyone, much less hapless students.

We like the idea of an exit exam. But we don’t think it will solve our problems. It is one part of a multi-faceted solution. And while we seem to have that one part mastered, those other facets are exploding in our faces.

Exit exams are a good idea. But as things now stand in our community and in the state, they’re more like smoke and mirrors being used to hide an abysmally poor system of education that has been destroyed by the same government that claims to want to make it better.  

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