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In the debate about high school exit exams, it seems I am part of a very small minority that dares to say the unspeakable: "There shouldn't be any exit exams." There, I said it. I didn't skirt the issue by talking about when they should be applied, or whether they should be modified for students with learning disabilities. We just shouldn't have them, period.
Exit exams are already being given at the end of each semester; we call them "finals." Students who haven't learned the material shouldn't pass the final. A student who fails the class must repeat it until they get a passing grade. Once a student has received a passing grade (yes, even a D-minus) they have received, in effect, a promise from the Alaska school system that they are qualified to move on to the next level. The school system betrays that trust when it uses an exit exam to deny a diploma to a student who has attended school for 12 years and passed all their classes.
If stricter standards are necessary to ensure all our graduates have learned the basic subjects, then we must beef up the requirements for receiving a passing grade in each and every Alaskan classroom. A child who is promoted every step of the way and gets to 12th grade without the ability to read and write and do basic math, should never have been passed out of their classes to begin with. Graduation is not the time to pull the rug out from under that child.
I am all for excellence in education, but quite frankly I am not sure that a working knowledge of geometry, for example, is necessary for a graduating student to become a productive member of society. A high school diploma, on the other hand, is an essential tool for a young man or woman who is not going on to college, but wants to get an entry-level job and become a self-sufficient wage earner. Let's be realistic, not everyone goes to college, and students who feel they cannot pass the exit exams might drop out of high school before they are ready to join the job market. Those students may never catch up.
We need to rethink this whole subject and concentrate on helping every child to legitimately pass every class. Then there will be no need to administer controversial exit exams.