Did she prove that she is ready for college and life? Did he? Depends on whether they passed the exit test.

Did she prove that she is ready for college and life? Did he? Depends on whether they passed the exit test.

THE CENTER FOR EDUCATION POLICY offers its latest evaluation of graduation exams. And for Indiana — whose Graduation Qualifying Exam is notorious for being a tad too easy (only tests 8th- and 9th-grade learning) and yet, so hard for some students to pass — the results are, well, underwhelming. This, unfortunately, is not only true for the Hoosier State, but for most of the other 25 states offering such exams.

Eight percent of the graduates in Indiana’s Class of 2007 garnered a sheepskin despite repeatedly failing the test. But, as I’ve reported last year, it’s actually worse than those numbers suggest when one looks at each district and high school. Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, 23.6 percent of the district’s Class of 2007 –281 students — graduated despite repeatedly flunking the graduation test. Sixteen percent of Greater Clark County School’s Class of 2007 repeatedly flunked the GQE, while 17 percent of South Bend Community Schools graduating class this year never passed the test (I’ll spare the Gary school district’s miserable numbers for all of us).

Thankfully, Indiana will replace the GQE by 2012 with a series of end-of-course tests in Algebra I and 10th-grade English. But the state isn’t eliminating the waiver process; students and parents will still have incentives for not passing the tests, while schools and districts will have no incentive to improve curriculum and instruction. This is also true for other states, which also refuse to hold students — and schools — accountable for lagging performance.

New York still allows students who passed a state Board of Regents-approved course to submit a “department-approved” test such as the SAT II — none of which are aligned with state standards — if they don’t pass that state’s end-of-course Regent’s exams. Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, 12 percent of students — 11,747 students — avoided passing the state’s High School Proficiency Assessment in order to grab their sheepskins.

And it’s even more laughable in Washington State, where the legislature approved a series of alternatives to passing the state exit exam there. A student who fails the exam can either compare his work to another student with a similar profile who actually passed the test, assemble a portfolio of work or get the slightly more rigorous total cut score of 1200 — way below the average SAT score of 1500 on the 2007 edition of the collegiate entrance exam — to get out of passing.

The results of these faulty regimes can be seen in the high numbers of students, both in major universities and community colleges, in the low levels of graduation and the high numbers of those students ending up in remedial education course. The fact that these students aren’t even being tested for the knowledge they need to even get into apprenticeship programs means that schools are poorly preparing them for the challenges of the global economy, in which math skills are so highly prized. And state policymakers, in turn, merely weaken the very standards they declare they want all students to learn. Education as both tragedy and farce at once.

The good news — if you can call it that — is that states are moving more toward end-of-course exams, which will force students to show that they have mastered the math, science, history and English knowledge they need in order to get into higher education of any kind, be it college, techinical school or trade apprenticeships. But high-stakes testing, contrary to the arguments of FairTest and other opponents of standardized testing regimes, remains more mythology than reality.