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Education Reporter

Exit Exams Too Easy, Study Finds 
Good News: They Don't Increase Dropout Rate
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High school graduation exams required for more than half of American students largely test material taught in the 9th and 10th grades, according to a study by Achieve Inc. released in June. Moreover, the mathematical material on the tests is often taught at the middle school level in other industrialized countries.

The study found that the tests measure very basic skills, insufficient for success in university courses or in jobs paying salaries above the poverty level.

The study examined high school exit exams in language arts and math from six states - Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas - and writing tests from four of those states. Achieve Inc. is a nonprofit organization created by state governors and business leaders.

While high school exit exams have been criticized for increasing dropout rates, a new study by the Manhattan Institute concluded that the exams do not significantly affect dropout rates. Moreover, neither reducing class size nor increasing spending on education increases graduation rates, according to the study, which was released April 28.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia either have high school exit exams or plan to implement them in the near future. (nytimes.com, 6-10-04)

Legal challenges to exit exams brought by disabled students are demanding special accommodations, some of which arguably undermine the very purpose of the exams. In August, Alaska announced a settlement of one such suit. The accommodations include reading out loud a test that is supposed to measure reading ability; permitting the use of word processors or calculators; and allowing severely disabled students to graduate without ever passing the exam, if their other work is deemed adequate by experts. (nytimes.com, 8-3-04)

Graduation requirements suffered another setback in California last spring. Less than a year after the state postponed until 2006 a controversial requirement that seniors pass an exit exam, more than a third of California's high school districts applied for waivers of a requirement that 2004 graduating seniors pass an algebra class. Some 14,000 students would not have graduated if the legal requirement had been enforced. (sfgate.com, 5-24-04)

Bush pushes 12th-grade testing 
President Bush in April endorsed a proposal to require states to test 12th-grade students by using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a relatively uncontroversial test that does not determine school sanctions or funding and is not used as an exit exam. The proposal, which would require congressional approval, faces uncertain prospects in Congress because of complaints about the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

By law, all states currently test 4th- and 8th-graders in reading and math every other year. Several states already test high school seniors voluntarily. (washington post.com, 4-7-04)

G.E.D. displaces diploma for more teens 
As states have adopted testing and other requirements for graduation, the percentage of teenagers using the G.E.D. (which is administered by the General Educational Development Testing Service) to obtain a high school-equivalent diploma has soared from 33% in 1992 to 49% in 2002. The figure has doubled since 1989. About one out of seven high school diplomas granted in the U.S. now goes to someone who has passed the G.E.D. instead of completing high school.

The G.E.D. testing system was originally devised to help World War II veterans earn the equivalent of a high school diploma. Most educators do not consider it truly equivalent. Students who transfer to G.E.D. programs are dropped from school rolls but are not counted as dropouts in many states. (New York Times, 5-15-04)

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