One such Democrat is Alaska State Senator Bettye Davis (D-East Anchorage). A former Anchorage School Board member, she's been a critic of Alaska's High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (HSGQE), commonly referred to as the "exit exam", complaining that it's "too hard" for too many. The exit exam was conceived in order to restore the value and prestige of a high school diploma, attributes which were diluted by affirmative action, political correctness, and social promotion within our nation's public schools. So just as law school graduates must pass a bar exam in order to get a license to practice law, so our high school students must pass an exit exam to certify that they are indeed high school graduates.
But Senator Davis is more concerned about "self-esteem" and other such psychobabblery than she is about guaranteeing the value of a diploma. So she's taken off the mask and is sponsoring a bill, SB109, that would abolish the exit exam effective July 1st, 2011. Here are the highlights of her reasoning in the sponsor statement:
(1). Lack of need. Senator Davis argues that the state does not need the HSGQE, as the state and all school districts already require many assessment tests to determine student progress and competency. While it's true that school district do administer assessments along the way to determine progress, these are merely progress exams to reduce the chance of a student slipping through the cracks and falling hopelessly behind; they don't hold students accountable. They are not certification exams. In contrast, the HSGQE fulfills the need for a certification exam and holds students accountable.
(2). Too many failures. Senator Davis reports that in 2007, over 1,100 students statewide failed to pass the HSGQE after five opportunities, while 8,524 passed. On the other hand, graduation rates have risen since the exit exam requirement took effect in 2004, from 62.9 percent to 67.5 percent in 2009, according to the Department of Education. Much of the reason for failure was initial growing pains with the testing process; the Department of Education and Early Development made adjustments to the tests to simplify them. It should also be noted that the exit exam is not an "all or nothing" proposition; students can first take it as early as the spring semester of the student's first sophomore year, as determined by a given district. This gives ample time to re-test later in their junior or senior year in the event of initial failure.
But instead of harping on the failures, let's hear from those students who successfully completed the exit exam. Two of them wrote LTEs to the Anchorage Daily News in response to an ADN story entitled "Kill high school exit exam, critics tell committee"; both were recently published. On February 6th, this letter from J.J. Jessen.
Exit exam keeps standards high
I could not help but shake my head after reading "Kill high school exit exam, critics tell committee (Jan. 30)," which complained that the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam was "keeping hundreds of students from earning diplomas and jobs for which they're otherwise qualified..."
Are we seriously considering lowering the standards just to pass a few more people into the job market? Hopefully not.
I myself graduated from Bartlett High last May after passing the exam along with hundreds of others. As someone who has taken the exam, I would like to point out that many sophomores pass all three portions of the exam two years before they should graduate. Those who don't manage to pass the first time have four more opportunities. Five attempts to pass a test across three years, and we're trying to abolish it because it's too hard?
If critics want to end the test to save the estimated $1.3 million, fine, but saying that the bar is set too high is just an embarrassment to our education. Take pride, keep standards.
-- J.J. Jessen, Anchorage
And on February 7th, this letter from Cassandra Ash:
High school exit exam proves competence in basic skills
I am writing in reference to your article on "Eliminating the High school exit exam" for the state of Alaska. I am a high school senior and found the article to be very interesting in many ways.
First, I don't think the test was very hard, and I am an average student.
Second, I do think it is important to make sure that a student is competent in reading, writing, and mathematics before they receive a diploma.
I understand that many educators and parents support eliminating the exam, but I think it should be put to a vote, because I believe that more of them would be for keeping the exam in place.
-- Cassandra Ash, Eagle River
Until we can find a better way to hold students accountable and to guarantee the value of a high school diploma, we should keep the exit exam. Or as Bill Clinton would say, "Mend it, don't end it"