Posted by: Magistra | May 24, 2006

California Exit

So maybe this year’s crop of high school students have to pass the exam after all. I’m not really sure where I stand on this one.

Yes, I think any “normal” (defined later) student should be able to demonstrate 10th grade English skills and knowledge of basic algebra. But I would prefer if we trusted that students who passed English 10 and Algebra I had demonstrated that knowledge, rather than creating a standard that blatantly says we don’t trust teachers. There’s a lot of not trusting teachers going around, and I don’t think that’s a good principle to build an education system around. Still, assuming the test is reasonably designed, “normal” students should be able to pass it.

What do I mean by “normal”? I mean students who aren’t in special education and are not English language learners. O’Connell has a year to come up with alternatives for special education students/students with disabilities/students with special needs. I anticipate a big fight over this, and I hope it will improve news coverage of special education and students with disabilities. I think I’ll write more about this some other time, but basically, I never have any idea what journalists (and often educators) mean by students with disabilities. Does that include a student paralyzed from the waist down? Because presumably that student could meet the same academic standards without any modifications. A dyslexic student? Reasonable modifications ought to make it possible for this student to meet those academic standards too. Or are they talking about students with severe cognitive disabilities? Because my guess is that appropriate standards for those students will differ tremendously from person to person.

But this year doesn’t apply to students with disabilities anyway, so on to English language learners (ELL’s). I obviously have a high school diploma; I’ve even got a college degree. But if I had to take a test in any language besides English to establish my knowledge of English 10 and Algebra I, I have serious doubts I could pass. Maybe if it was in Spanish (or Latin!) I’d have a chance, but even another Romance language (French, Romanian, etc.) and I’m sunk (even with a dictionary or instructions in English as currently allowed – warning, it’s a PDF).

Yet, if I decide to move to Portugal tomorrow, I’d want credit for my high school education. I’ve got the content knowledge, even if I can’t produce it in Portuguese. Yes, I imagine that to get a job (at least a job I’d be interested in), I’d have to learn Portuguese. But sending me back to high school until I learned the language doesn’t seem like the best step. I just don’t see how it is fair, reasonable, or helpful to prevent someone from receiving a high school diploma because they couldn’t demonstrate language skills. (An ELL who also can’t demonstrate content knowledge is a different case.)

I’m not sure what the assessment process would look like for an ELL to demonstrate content knowledge. For languages spoken by many students, it may be most efficient to deliver the test in multiple languages (for example, Spanish and Mandarin). It’s students who speak minority minority languages (for lack of a better term), that I’m unclear how we prove content knowledge, especially if we can’t trust teachers to evaluate their knowledge.

I guess my point is that I think ELL’s have a strong case for why the CA exit exam, as currently conceived, should not stop them from getting a high school diploma. I’m curious what the courts will say. And yes, I know I haven’t even mentioned the socioeconomic arguments being made. Maybe later.

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