Integrity Matters
May 17, 2006

Exit exam makes sure that students measure up

Question: (E-239)

Dear Jim:

Passing the California High School Exit Exam was supposed to verify that graduating seniors were qualified to progress to next step of their lives.

Now that a judge has set aside those standards, how will an employer or a college admissions officer know what someone understands or can process - even with a high school diploma?


Without a legitimate measure of abilities, a diploma's impact is diminished.

Sooner or later, individuals need to prove what they know and demonstrate what they can do, which is one purpose of interviews. Those who learn and are able to communicate what they know will continue to progress.

The rest will fall further behind - socially, culturally and economically.

Bright educators, examination designers and wise administrators offer conflicting positions on the most effective way to make sure substantive learning has occurred.

Written examinations pose problems related to the content, design and fairness. Legitimate concerns about bias issues make even setting up uniform standards a nightmare for those responsible for assessing comprehension.

Effective education informs, inspires, prepares, nurtures and enables individuals. Even with solid building blocks in basic skills of reading, writing and math, students must be able to communicate what they know.

If essays or interviews need to be added to the standardized testing program to accommodate different processing modes, then include them, immediately.

The "real" world has clear standards for integrity that depend upon individual accountability and competence.

Standards of excellence do not change simply because they are demanding.

To keep a job in a pizza restaurant, as an hourly worker, a new employee must be able to perform certain tasks, communicate those skills to peers and superiors and pass certain tests - including effective customer relations.

To operate a forklift and continue to be paid, there are certain requirements, both physical and mental, that are non-negotiable. The examples are endless. A high school diploma must be earned, and it must mean something.

In our increasingly complex and global society, it's not enough to say that one warmed a chair in high school. The ability to understand and apply math and science is not the luxury of the privileged. Likewise, written and verbal skills, along with interpersonal insights, will separate those who prosper from those who struggle.

Educational integrity requires that legitimate learning maintain uncompromising standards that can be tested and communicated.

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