Replacing exit exam a good idea

April 30, 2014 

Like most standardized testing, South Carolina’s high school exit exam – the High School Assessment Program – was designed to help ensure that schools were doing their job.

The results were supposed to measure whether a high school diploma was a true gauge of accomplishment or just a meaningless piece of paper.

To some extent the test did that. Last year, 82 percent of first-time test takers statewide passed both the English and the math sections of the test, and those who didn’t pass could retake the test, ensuring that the pass rate would rise.

But the HSAP was something of a blunt instrument, a test that didn’t offer any useful information about the skills learned by students or what their aptitudes might be once they graduated. So now, after years of urging from critics, including the state’s independent Education Oversight Committee, the exit exam is officially a thing of the past.

Gov. Nikki Haley recently signed a law deleting the three-decade-old exit exam. Starting with the class of 2015, students won’t have to take it.

The move also was cheered by advocates for children with disabilities who say the HSAP stood in the way of students who otherwise could earn the 24 credits needed for a diploma.

But this won’t be the end of exit testing altogether. Beginning next year, 11th-graders will take two tests.

The law specifies that one will be ACT’s Work-Keys, a work-skills assessment system. The results can be taken to employers to help align skills with job openings.

The other test will help measure college readiness. It is likely to be either the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam.

Eliminating the exit exam, in place since 1986, does not appear to be an attempt to “dumb down” the requirements to allow more students to earn a diploma. Instead, it looks like an honest effort to find a better way to measure the skills of students whether they are headed for college or directly to the workplace.

The process also offers flexibility. With students taking both the college assessment and career readiness tests, they will have options if their plans change.

Juniors will have time to use the results to serve their own purposes. That could range from getting an internship to taking courses to enhance chances of getting into college.

Ostensibly, if students take the required courses for a diploma and pass them, they should be permitted to walk the stage at graduation. Taking tests that provide useful information about what path to take during their senior year and after graduation makes far more sense than a one-size-fits-all exit exam.

In today’s competitive workplace, most students will need additional specialized training after they graduate from high school. That could mean classes at a technical college or four-year university, or training provided by potential employers.

In any case, graduates are likely to need more than just a high school diploma to make their way in the world. The new testing regime should provide them with some useful information about which direction they should take.

Replacing the exit exam with new tests makes sense.

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