Why conservatives should celebrate, not bemoan, the passage of California’s SB 172 eliminating exit exams.
Opt Out Spokane
Washington State Against Common Core
There seems to be some confusion among conservatives regarding recent developments in education reform. As previously evidenced by Congressional Republicans’ support of the Every Student Succeeds Act (a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and a bill that delivers veto power over state education plans to the U.S. Secretary of Education) and now by what we hope is a misunderstanding over the good news of California’s repeal of exit exams, many trusted conservatives appear to be doing very shallow research and a great disservice to the anti-Common Core and opt out movements.
Tests known as exit exams, while they have been around for over a decade in California, are a relatively new element of the same federal reforms that have brought us the Common Core State Standards, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, and a gutting of FERPA laws to allow student data collection and sharing on a phenomenal scale without parental knowledge or consent. All of these reforms are sustained by high-stakes testing. Testing and standards are directly linked, and the data through which policies are influenced and profits are made is gathered directly by the tests. Nevermind that these tests are often invalid, with cut scores being set after results are in, with scorers hired via Craigslist ads, with questions being psychological (not just academic) in nature, and, in the case of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, with the entire test being experimental and unproven. As many parents are becoming more informed about high-stakes testing, the numbers who choose to allow their children to participate are falling. 2015 produced Washington state’s highest opt-out numbers ever.
In order to coerce parents and students into taking these tests, governments, districts, and schools will raise the stakes, often at the behest of private interests who profit greatly from the testing industry. The federal government threatens to withhold funding or close schools; states and districts instruct their principals to hold high pressure meetings with each parent who wants to exercise their right to opt their child out of state testing; the Washington state legislature required (thankfully, now amended) that retention be considered for THIRD graders who scored too low on the state test; state colleges are convinced to accept the SBA as an entrance exam; and so on. But by far the highest of the stakes placed on any test is requiring it as an exit exam to receive a diploma. This creates the potentiality that a student who has spent 13 years of his life working hard in school could pass all courses with a 4.0 and be denied a high school diploma because he did not take or pass one particular test. Creating this situation, as has been done in Washington state, is nothing more than a top-down coercion tactic aimed at increasing the number of students testing and, therefore, the amount of data collected and profits made through the test.
California’s SB 172 removes the highest of stakes on testing by eliminating the requirement of an exit exam. This does not mean high school students will not take tests and be required to pass them. In the state of Washington and elsewhere before exit exams and requiring a single test for graduation, performance was demonstrated in part through course finals that helped the teacher determine whether a student had sufficiently mastered a course. It is a system of greater local control and, indeed, students are still required to take and pass their finals.
The idea of local control in education, typically touted by conservatives as a desirable one, includes the notion that determinations affecting a student should be made as close to the student as possible. California’s former exit exam (CAHSEE) was determined at the state level. Washington’s exit exam is moving toward being determined at the national level (transitioning from the HSPE/EOC to the SBA). It seems the best we can hope for is that conservatives expressing support for what is a move away from local control are simply confused and misinformed. As a new legislative session and election season is nearly upon us, we can also hope that they do continue to speak up. Conservatives should be cheering California’s passage of SB 172 and supporting similar legislation in other states.