Thursday, December 15, 2005

Exit Exam Alternatives--Or Not?

Jack O'Connell, California state superintendent of public education, called for a meeting this morning (a meeting he won't be in Sacramento to attend!), a gathering of non-teacher "experts" to weigh the pros and cons of alternatives to the current high school exit exam requirement. In six months, consequences of the high stakes exam will kick in for thousands of kids. As you might imagine, there are essentially two camps: those who argue that one multiple choice exam is not the best way to validate four years of learning, and those who argue that only a multiple choice exam can do just that.

Other states--including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont and New York--employ varying models of graduation assessment, in addition to, or as modifications for, one single exit test. Ideas include portfolios, native language testing for newly immigrant students and senior projects targeting the standards. New Jersey actually modifies test administration, allowing smaller pieces of the test to be taken at a time, linked more closely to specific subject matter instruction.

Some of the strongest and most prominent test advocates include representatives of California Business for Education Excellence. Jim Lanich, the president, dismisses alternatives as "subjective." (Seems he's been reading his Business Roundtable and Association of Test Publishers Bible: "To promote and preserve the general welfare of testing and its value to society, in all its forms and uses.") Lanich is also executive director of Just for the Kids, an organization whose name has creepy overtones when you realize that it's just another "accountability" lobbying group.

It's also crucial to remember what the newspapers aren't yet mentioning: the test in dispute is the High School Exit Exam produced by Educational Testing Service (ETS), highly-lucrative non-profit corporation which in November had its multi-million dollar contract renewed to manage and administer all test scoring and results for California. The stakes are at least as high for ETS as for California's schools--yet teachers are generally dismissed as the biased advocates in this debate.

Here's where the advocacy of the newly-refined UTLA platform has the potential to break ground in standing up for the complexities of learning, in a world where "people" and not "tests" have general welfare, and where kids and teachers proudly reclaim their vested interest in staying "in each other's way."

Watch for subsequent reports about what happens in today's meeting. The Sacramento Bee is closely following the story.

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