Guest Opinions

Pro-Con: High stakes graduation tests should be eliminated

Some state lawmakers want to stop requiring students to take exit exams in order to earn a high school diploma. Members of The Washington Roundtable oppose the idea, while many local school officials approve it.
Some state lawmakers want to stop requiring students to take exit exams in order to earn a high school diploma. Members of The Washington Roundtable oppose the idea, while many local school officials approve it. Tri-City Herald File

Editors note: This is part of a pro-con debate over whether state lawmakers should get rid of high school exit exams. The opposing viewpoint can be found here.

During the testing craze promoted by the U.S. Department of Education, more than half the states required students to pass a high-stakes, standardized test to graduate from high school.

Rick Jansons
Rick Jansons, president of the Richland School Board

However, years of parent, student and educator frustration, combined with ballooning costs have caused most states to re-examine and eliminate this harmful requirement.

The tests do not accurately measure an individual student’s achievement.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction publishes test data that document statistically significant numbers of false-positive and false-negative test scores. The data report warns the reader that “scores from one test given on a single occasion should never be used solely to make important decisions about students’ placement, the type of instruction they have received, or retention in a given grade level in school.”

Yet our mistaken law requires us to use the test as a high school exit exam.

The tests do not improve instruction. In fact, high-stakes testing damages our school system. In many districts, the mandated testing regime has led to a narrowing of curriculum, emphasizing only what’s tested. This hurts vocational education programs, fine arts, foreign language, history and other important non-tested subjects.

Precious instructional time is lost as schools prepare and test students.

Two weeks of student learning time are lost every year so the state-mandated tests can be administered. In addition, studies have found that students spend an additional 60 to 110-plus hours per year directly engaged in test preparation activities.

High passing rates in a district do not necessarily indicate that students receive a full, well-rounded education. Instead, they may mean that students are taught to take the test.

High school exit test requirements also hurt children. High school diplomas are at risk for students with test anxiety, limited English proficiency, or for students who are just having a bad day during testing. The decision to withhold a high school diploma on the basis of a single test clearly has a major impact on a young person’s future life.

For the majority of our students who easily pass the test, the state test is at best a waste of time and money. For some students, the test is an unfair obstacle blocking them from post-secondary education and better employment opportunities.

Our best measure of a student is all that they have successfully accomplished in their 13 years of school.

We should not ignore the long-term evidence of hours of study, self-discipline and hard work that a student gives in order to satisfactorily pass their courses. While grading practices may differ from teacher to teacher, the evaluation of many highly qualified and professional teachers over multiple years is the best measure of success.

We should not use commercially produced standardized tests in place of 13 years of teacher judgment. We should not let something like test anxiety, limited English proficiency, or just a bad day limit the future of a child.

The Legislature should continue to work toward eliminating the requirement for a high school exit exam. These tests are bad for kids, devalue our teachers, and waste time and tax money. Graduation decisions are best made locally and not by big government at the state or federal level.

Rick Jansons is president of the Richland School Board and has been a board member for 17 years.

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