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High School Exit Exams

10 June 2003

With respect to the ongoing debate over whether exit exams for high school are good or bad — and what they actually measure — I recommend to you an article from The Boston Globe Sunday edition from the weekend before last (1 June) about a study of student scores from the MCAS, which is Massachusetts’ version of an exit exam.

After looking at scores for schools from across the state — inner-city, suburban, and rural — and analyzing for all kinds of confounding factors, the Globe reporters came to a conclusion which utterly shocked them: the primary determinant of student performance was not the type of school they attended, or their family income, or the level of school funding, or any of the other myriad factors we all assume determine academic performance; the primary determinant of student performance on the MCAS was school attendance. In other words, students who bothered to go to class regularly, to pay attention to what the teachers were teaching, and to do their assignments diligently overwhelmingly passed the exit exam, regardless of what school they attended; those who did not do those things failed the exit exam at an alarmingly high rate.

One may argue about the factors that cause students to skip school or to dismiss educational opportunities presented to them, but this study in Massachusetts suggests that the best thing we can do for students is to create a culture that keeps them in school. That may involve some of the other things we all think we should be doing, like addressing funding problems or poverty, but it implies a completely different focus than what we seem to have been doing for the past 30 years.

I think it’s certainly worth a look from reporters here in California. What do you think?

© Copyright 2003, 2005, Augustus P. Lowell

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