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Originally published December 18, 2012 at 4:47 PM | Page modified December 18, 2012 at 4:47 PM

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Op-ed: Decrease the number of high school exit exams to three

The state Legislature should reduce the number of exit exams for the high-school class of 2015 from five to three, writes guest columnist Randy Dorn.

Special to The Times

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IT’S time for Washington state to streamline high-school exit exams.

Washington state needs exit exams to ensure that every student who receives a diploma — no matter where he or she went to school — has the knowledge and skills we expect of high-school graduates. Students in the Class of 2012 were required to pass two exit exams.

By the time this year’s 10th-graders graduate, it will be five.

Testing is important, but over-testing creates a system in which too much classroom time is devoted to preparing for tests, taking tests and preparing to retake tests or moving to alternatives when students fail to pass.

I propose the state Legislature reduce the number of exit exams for the class of 2015 from five to three.

We have a history in our state of high academic standards and accountability. Within the past two years, high-school credit requirements have increased in English language arts, math and social studies. As of June 2012, we were one of 24 states that require high-school students to pass specific tests to graduate. And if students don’t pass these exams, our state assessment system provides a variety of other ways for students to demonstrate their abilities, such as the Collection of Evidence. The Collection of Evidence is a portfolio of classroom work prepared by the student with instructional support from a teacher.

The cost of this assessment system is high. State exit exams are estimated to cost $30 per test, and the Collection of Evidence currently costs $400 per student in each content area. I support testing. But at what point are we spending too much time and money on these tests?

The timing of this proposal makes sense. Washington is in the midst of changing its standards in math and English-language arts. That gives us the perfect opportunity to take a hard look at our assessment system and make some practical changes.

In July 2011, I formally adopted the Common Core State Standards as a major first step in helping our state move forward with education reform. The Common Core standards offer clear, understandable and consistent standards in math and English language arts. They define the knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for college and career opportunities. They are internationally competitive and based on extensive research.

Students in the class of 2015 are required to pass five exit exams to graduate from high school, also known as high-school-proficiency or end-of-course exams: Reading, Writing, Biology, Algebra and Geometry.

In January, I will propose to the Legislature that we reduce the five required tests to three for the 2014-15 school year: English language arts, biology and algebra.

Reducing the number of exit exams will not reduce accountability, nor will it lower standards. It may, however, provide additional time for students to study other important subjects including art, music and career and technical education.

I was one of the authors of our state’s Education Reform Act of 1993. It called for standards to be written in math, reading, writing, science and other subjects. It also called for students to be tested on those standards.

Since testing began in 1997, we have maintained the high standards promised in the Education Reform Act. I want to continue that tradition. Balance is crucial but there can be such a thing as too much testing.

Randy Dorn is Washington state superintendent of public instruction.

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