Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Not a Passing Mark

The debate over the California exit exams continues to rage, now making its way up the court levels to another appeal. At the heart of the matter is whether or not 20,000 students who flunked the exam, but otherwise fulfilled graduation requirements, should be awarded diplomas. The plaintiffs say the case is unfair, and not all students had an equal chance at learning the material necessary to pass.

This is definitely a sticky subject, as it touches on some fundamental problems in our educational system, especially in good ole California. However, the thought of exams to help assess our children’s academic acuity is appealing to me, especially as there are gross differences in the “grades” that different schools hand out. As such, and as much as people will claim there are biases and differences, I think the results should stand and the people should fail.

These tests have been coming for years now. There has been ample time for schools, and students, to prepare for them. For several years these tests were taken, but not mandatory for graduation. This is the first year it is required to graduate. The students knew it was coming; this was not a last-minute pop quiz given to them. If they felt they were behind, and their school wasn’t cutting it, they should have sought help elsewhere. That is what students have been doing for eons – you need help, you find a tutor.

Secondly, this is a state curriculum mandate. The board has said you need to know xyz to be considered graduated from high school. Yes there are inequalities associated with it. That happens with all things, and it is an indication for the schools to improve. You could make a similar argument with college acceptances. All students are not equally prepared to apply to Harvard, and they don’t have the same chances to get in. Does this mean therefore that all students should be accepted to Harvard carte blanche? No. While schools should be prepared to improve, to offer more services to their students, to better prepare and educate them, the fact is that there is a set of standards now set before the students, and they did not pass the test. Literally.

And they should hold themselves accountable for that in some part. That may sound harsh, but it is their responsibility to pass the test, just like it is ultimately their responsibility to go to school, apply to college, get a job, etc. If they don’t have what it takes, it is not the fault of the test to point out their deficiencies. It is not 100% fair, and it should be remedied for the future, but these students need to realize they don’t have what it takes. We need qualified students moving into our businesses, our government, and our colleges. It is the quality of this education that keeps us going as a country, and this is a dire sign we need to improve. But for the future of American sciences, economics, and our status as an innovative society, they should fail.

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