The California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) is not perfect. It lacks modifications for special education students. It fails to take into consideration the multiple ways students grow. Nor does it acknowledge the disparity in learning environments that exist across the state. The CAHSEE has problems.
But am I really to believe that it is entirely a terrible idea? Is there nothing good about the CAHSEE? Is it not even a nice place to start? Would public education be better without the exit exam?
What I Like About You
The primary reason I like the CAHSEE is because it forces students to take responsibility for their learning. Imagine a senior who cannot take a test to demonstrate understanding of concepts from 8th-grade math and 10th-grade English. Should that person receive a diploma? Is that the person you want working on your taxes or reading your resume somewhere? Is that even the person you want counting back your change or looking up your air filter part number?
Think of any type of certification that exists. Without standards in place and a standardized test created by an objective third party, how is there assurance that applicants have achieved minimum mastery of skills needed? And if anyone can earn it, the certification rapidly loses all significance. One only need look as far as the title of “minister” to see an example. You, too, can become a minister and preside over weddings at your discretion. All it’ll cost you is a nominal service fee and a 39-cent stamp.
Not Everyone Can Earn One
I said it before and I’ll say it again: If high school diplomas are to be significant, not everyone can earn one. Perhaps the exit exam does exactly what it was designed to do, act as a gatekeeper to prevent students with low skills from earning a diploma.
If not the CAHSEE, then what? How do we make sure that earning a diploma actually means anything? How do we make sure that high schools all across the state are at least roughly equal? How do we assure a minimum level of quality in our high school graduates?
Start The Revolution
The CASHEE is a test where we, as a state, say, “Look, in order to earn a diploma, you simply must demonstrate competency in these skills, some 8th-grade but most 10th-grade standards. If you cannot demonstrate these skills, we’ll help you with extra courses. You obviously missed a few things in your earlier education, but we’ll cover those topics again. We’ll also give you a total of 6 chances to pass the test. To make it easier on you, almost all make-up test sessions will be scheduled during regular school hours, the one exception being your 6th chance to pass the test. That one will be held the summer following the end of your senior year. After all that, if you still can’t demonstrate these skills, you have not earned a diploma. Our various community colleges will continue to work with you and we wish you well.”
The natural follow up would be to investigate the instruction taking place in schools, balance inequities in the quality of instructional environments, look at the course work in place to earn a teaching credential, reconfigure the “seperate but equal” ways schools are funded (basic-aid vs. revenue-limit funding), work to modify the CAHSEE so that it accurately tests what we want it to, and begin the battle with the federal government over meaningless assessment like STAR testing. This could easily lead to the overhaul of the entire public education system. I’d have front row seats to witness that one and would be a proud Californian.
But we don’t want to look there, do we? That’s all far too complicated. So let’s get rid of the CAHSEE and go back to the same way things have been done in public education for years. Let’s get rid of an exit exam and go back to blaming the teachers and the schools. Let’s all point fingers and not do anything to work on fixing it.
If not the CAHSEE, then what? Because you can’t tell me everything is alright without it.