The enemies of accountability for schools and high performance for students were out in force on the occasion of a bizarre study from Stanford and UC Davis researchers.
Most disconcerting was a victory dance by a business organization claiming the high school exit exam a “failure.”
First, it’s more than a little unseemly to flack a policy outcome (in this case, mandated vocational education programs) by incorrectly claiming that the exit exam is a failure. Heck, the study’s authors didn’t even claim that.
Second, it is unlikely that any student who fails the high school exit exam will ever find a job on the factory floor, unless it’s to sweep it up. After all, the exit exam, which students can take multiple times beginning in their sophomore year, includes a math test aligned to eighth-grade standards and an English test aligned to 10th-grade standards. It’s laughable to suggest that abolishing the test and handing out meaningless diplomas to uneducated students will help them.
Opposition to the high school exit exam is only part of a larger trend to undermine California’s emerging culture of accountability. Several bills are being considered by the Legislature to end assessments in second grade, which give us early warning about pupils’ ability to read and do math, which is critical to direct additional support to students who are beginning to fall behind.
As to the Stanford study, Bill Evers of the Hoover Institution does a good job unpacking it. The authors claim that the differential performance for girls and minorities can only be explained by “stereotype threat,” which is a situation in which ethnic minorities and girls are put off their pace by awareness that others expect them to fail.
The study found that among students in the lowest quartile of achievement, the exit exam requirement has no effect on the graduation rate of white students, but a large negative effect on graduation rates of African American, Hispanic, and Asian American students. According to Evers:
· In theory, the stereotype threat should not be lowering scores for Asian Americans.
· It should not be lowering scores for boys in the lowest quartile almost as much as for girls (which the data shows).
· The stereotype threat shouldn’t only operate on the lowest-quartile students. In theory, it should be lowering scores for minorities and girls in all quartiles on this high-stakes test.
But more to the point, it wasn’t the test that caused these kids or any students to fail, it was the low expectations and poor teaching. And as Evers notes, “Getting rid of the high school exit exam cannot be the solution. The solution has to be preparing low-performing students to pass the exam and telling them that their teachers, parents, ministers, and other community leaders expect them to succeed and will accept no excuses.”
And the solution certainly isn’t abandoning the long march toward high expectations and subject matter proficiency in favor of a two-tier education system