A Few Problemas With Exit Exams

I don’t let myself get quite worked up enough to need one of these remedies, but I put it up as a courtesy for those who do.

Here, in rough outline form, are a few of my “concerns” about exit exams and their effects on students, teachers, taxpayers, and the education system itself. You may have to wait awhile for the essay with footnotes…


1. Students have differential maturity rates. Fair is not always equal. Schools can assess more effectively, with more and better tools, than can the state with its “one-size fits all” paper & pencil test.

2. As evidenced in other states that have exit exams, drop out rates increase significantly. This results in a huge economic loss for students, and loss of productivity in general for the economy.

3. The added level of bureaucracy leaves less money for the classrooms of Oregon, and the reduction of the student:teacher ratios that are now so high.

4. If kept in school for an additional year, many students will loose out on $20-25K by spending another year in school rather than working.

5. An analysis of California’s situation indicates that algebra is a “trip wire” for predicting failure in high school. I think it’s nice to understand algebra so you can relearn it later if you go into a building trade (construction, for example) where it’s used all the time. But unless the job requires internalization of principles and formulas of algebra, you will lose it if you don’t use it. I’m a retired social studies teacher and I’m sure I couldn’t pass an algebra II test. Outside of using some basic formulas for fence building at two homes, I haven’t given it a thought in 40 years.


1. Teachers will be oriented toward pushing students to pass the pencil & paper state test and spending less time on equally valid, but different assessments that may be more appropriate for some students.

2. Teachers and local district administrators should be insulted that the state doesn’t trust them to educate, assess, and evaluate their students for credit. (That honks my horn, for sure.)

3. State tests will contribute to the frustration and anxiety level of teachers amping up the current exodus of new teachers from the profession (how many last more than five years, these days? I’m thinking 50%, if we’re lucky).


1. The taxpayer gets to foot the bill for the new layer of accountability bureaucracy that will be required to design and administer the exit exams on an ongoing basis. Wonder how much money New York has wasted on those Regents exams all these years?

2. Additional services at the local level, and keeping seniors an additional year, will cost the taxpayer more big bucks.


1. We allow education to be driven by big business and chambers of commerce. We permit Oregon’s schools to become worker preparation camps instead of fulfilling our mission of preparing students to learn independently, understand world issues like culture and race, and live the life of their choice in a democratic country.

Businesses that complain about hiring illiterates have lousy hiring practices! And businesses should train their employees for the particular jobs offered. (I actually know business people who agree with me and are offended by other business people who presume to run education.)

2. We pile layer upon layer of accountability on local systems that are not yet whole in terms of instructional effectiveness. Can you get record racetrack runs with an untuned race car?

For example, in our standards-oriented state we still have a hundreds, if not thousands, of different grading systems in effect in our classrooms. Many of these grading systems are punitive, and the results of this punishment are distorted grades, frequent failure, less learning, and a loss of self-efficacy for students that often leads to dropping out. Those grading systems do not accurately indicate what students have learned.

Let’s get the instructional, including grading, part right first, eh? Then stand back and watch achievement soar.

3. Accountability of local districts to the state should be taken care of with the accreditation process. Anything more, like exit exams (and No Child Left Behind) is a flat waste of money. Leave it to the districts, folks, and quit hovering.


3 thoughts on “A Few Problemas With Exit Exams

  1. Hi, Hugh! I’m still *somewhat* new at this teachin’ thang (just finished year three! woot!) but I don’t have quite the dim view of state tests that you do. Here in Georgia, we have a graduation test, but I don’t worry about it too much. It does help that I don’t teach juniors or seniors! On the other hand, I feel like if I teach the students what they need to know and be able to do, then they’ll pass the graduation test.

    Hi,Clix! May you remain eternally optimistic and fulfilled by you vocation. American education desperately needs happy teachers.
    🙂 –Hugh

  2. Hey! Although I was required to take the exit exam in Alabama, I personally think that they don’t exhibit what students should know when they graduate. The test, which is on an 8th grade level, recently underwent some scrutiny from state law makers. As a result, students have to be able to pass math and English (that’s the big push here) but only have to pass one other standard! What? are you kidding me? More and more the emphasis is being taken off of a well rounded education and placed on certain aspects. What good are math and English if you can’t understand the impact that history has on the world, or why are able to exist as we are flying through the universe. I think that all standardized testing should be done away with because it doesn’t allow the students to think. Here’s 4 choices pick one. I didn’t go to school in the standardized test age and find it very difficult to test that way now that I’m here.

    I believe there are alternate ways to get the point across and to make sure that students know what they need to know to succeed.

    Thanks for the comments, Stephanie. Wish our state board and state supe could be as practical as you are. 😉 –Hugh

  3. I’m not a fan of exit exams or the WASL. I’ve seen what they’ve done to our curriculum and to the students; it isn’t pretty! I doubt that I could pass the math section of the WASL. My husband, who is in construction but has no college degree, probably could. As you said, he uses math all the time in his job. (geometry mostly)

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