Wednesday, March 18, 2009


California High School Exit Exam. The CAHSEE.

Exit exams are nothing new, they've had them for years. The students at Mclean High School were all required to take one, the test was a joke. We weren't even sure why we had to take it. "You have to be a real moron not to pass this test," the student's cracked, "how could you fail this test? My little brother could pass this test."

Of course, few if any school at Mclean were illiterate. The school consistently ranks in the top 100 high schools in the country. (According to Forbes, it's #58. Mclean's rival, Langley, is #56.)

So exit exams aren't traditonally a big deal, or at least they weren't until No Child Left Behind made them mandatory.

Suddenly, kids all across the country found they were incapable of performing the most rudimentary of tasks. You could no longer charm your way through classes, or be such a pain in the ass the school would push you through matriculation just to be rid of you. Mandatory exit exams made it readily apparant that many students did not have even the most basic, academic skills.

It absolutely crushes special ed.

I'm not a fan of No Child Left Behind, there are big problems with mandating schools perform higher, but then not providing the funds to ensure that the schools rise to meet those standards. Worse, a failing school that doesn't improve automatically loses Federal funds, ensuring it has little to no chance to ever pull out of the tail spin it finds itself in.

After 6 years, the Department of Education has found that while both whites and minorites have improved, the gap between them continues to widen.

Despite this, I still like the idea of an exit exam - it forces students to examine the decisions they've made in school and accept the consequences. The exit exam gives the school teeth, it enforces a standard and pushes students to strive harder.

"Mister, can we ditch the test?"

"Certainly, but then you won't graduate high school."

"But what if we pass all our classes?"

"Good for you, too bad you won't get a diploma."

"But that's not fair."

"Why isn't it fair?"

"Because the test is hard."

At this point I nod thoughtfully. "You are aware the test is typically at a 7th-9th grade level. That means every 10th grader should have the skills necessary to pass."

This normally kills the argument.

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