Across the country, states are ratcheting up standards for high school graduates. In the next few years, almost half of all states will require students to pass exit exams to graduate. Massive numbers of students failing to graduate is a looming fear, but one that remains largely unspoken among teachers, principals, students and parents in states that will soon require exit exams. In New York and California, however, these fears are becoming a reality as hundreds of students struggle to pass these exams.
In New York City, more than 60 percent of last year’s high school seniors could not graduate because they either flunked or failed to take at least one of the required Regents exams. The class of 2002 had to pass four Regents exams: U.S. history and government, global history, math, and English; the class of 2001 only had to pass math and English. These reports are even more disturbing considering that the passing score was only 55. In 2004, students will have to score 65 or better to pass the English and math exams. The following year, students will have to score 65 or better in five exams-including science.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the results in California are equally troubling. Fewer than half of the state’s 11th graders have passed the state’s high-stakes graduation exam after two tries, with more students falling short on the math portion than on English. The statewide goal is for all high school seniors to pass the California High School Exit Exam, beginning with the class of 2004. Students will have six chances to pass the exam before they finish the 12th grade.
While many California educators believe that students are only now beginning to realize the impact of the test, Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Roy Romer is going a step further. Citing the test results as “an opportunity to leverage change,” Romer announced a multi-step plan that includes adding a 13th year of schooling for failing students. During their 13th year, students would be placed in the district’s adult education program with the goal of helping them pass the exam. In a more immediate attack on the problem, high school counselors will begin working immediately to identify students who are still in school and have failed the tests. These students will be placed into remedial math and English classes beginning next semester. Meanwhile, the California Board of Education must revisit the exit exam graduation requirement before Aug. 1, 2003 and decide if 2004 is a realistic goal.
According to The Sacramento Bee, the high failure rate has led many parents to file lawsuits against the state’s high school exit exam. Meanwhile, interest groups representing minorities “charge that students of color, low-income students and English learners in California are less likely to be taught by the best teachers, to have proper textbooks and to be offered a rigorous curriculum.” They blame this lack of resources as the reason that minority students had such high failure rates the past two years.