Conclusion 2 on p. S-4 of the Summary publication states,
The evidence we have reviewed suggests that high school exit exam programs, as currently implemented in the United States, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing achievement. The best available estimate suggests a decrease of 2 percentage points when averaged over the population. In contrast, several experiments with providing incentives for graduation in the form of rewards, while keeping graduation standards constant, suggest that such incentives might be used to increase high school completion.In other words, graduation tests have not done anything to improve achievement and, in fact, have had a negative effect on graduation rates. Fewer students graduate because of them. This logically implies that the drop out rate is caused, at least in part, because of high school exit exams.
In March 2010 President Obama and the US Department of Education announced Steps to Reduce Dropout Rate and Prepare Students for College and Careers. What were these steps?
They begin with the national effort to help turn around America's lowest performing schools and are:
- The school must replace the principal and at least half the school staff
- The school must close and reopen as a charter school
- The school must close and transfer the students to higher performing schools within the district
The next step is to keep students on the track to graduation by:
- The school must address four areas of reform, including (1) developing teacher and school leader effectiveness (and replacing the principal who led the school prior to commencement of the transformational model); (2) implementing comprehensive instructional reform strategies; (3) extending learning and teacher planning time and creating community-oriented schools; and (4) providing operating flexibility and sustained support.
None of the parts of the DOE's plan include getting rid of the exit exams. Getting rid of the exit exams would have the added effect of saving money. For example, the exit exam in California costs the state about $700 million a year. The state could save money and improve graduation rates at the same time.
- Personalized and individualized instruction and support to keep students engaged in their learning and focused on success.
- Multiple pathways and credit recovery programs, such as high-quality alternative high schools, transfer schools, or career- and work-based experiences to help students catch-up and keep-up academically, and to get back on track toward a high school diploma.
- Better use of data and information to identify and respond to students at risk of failure, and assist with important transitions to high school and college.
Diane Ravitch in her recent blog entry, On Treating Students and Educators 'Like Rats in a Maze', writes,
Here is a golden opportunity for corporate reformers to reconsider their belief in carrots and sticks. The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science just released a major report about the value of test-based accountability and incentives. It appeared right before the Memorial Day weekend. It says that the train is on the wrong track. It deserves careful attention. I hope that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, members of Congress, and all the luminaries of corporate reform will read this report with care. So should every teacher and principal and parent who cares about the future of education in this country.There was another report released the same day. Ravitch wrote about it...
In another report, released on the same day, Marc S. Tucker, writing for the National Center on Education and the Economy, surveyed the practices of the top-performing nations in the world. He said that "much of the current reform agenda in this country is irrelevant, a detour from the route we must follow if we are to match the performance of the best." These nations, he said, do not test every student every year; they do not judge teacher quality by student test scores; they do not rely on computer-scored tests; they have a national curriculum that goes "far beyond mathematics and the home language covering, as well, the sciences, the social sciences, the arts and music ..."; and they have built over time a coherent process for recruiting, educating, and supporting excellent teachers who make teaching their career. Tucker's report deserves more space than I can devote to it here. Please take the time to read it. It is yet another clear sign that our "reform" train is on the wrong track.She ends her post with rhetorical questions which will, I'm afraid, go unanswered.
Will anyone listen? Will Secretary Duncan? Will Congress? Will the Gates Foundation? Will the D.C. think tanks?