Exit Exams, ACT Scores Reflect Non-Preparedness for Post-High School Life

Researchers says many high school graduation tests lack a clear goal. In fact, a new report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) says those tests have little tie to college.

The CEP study [PDF] finds many state tests do not measure if a student is ready for college or work. Out of 25 states giving graduation exams, only Georgia says its test ensures students are ready for higher education or employment in the workplace. Study author Keith Gayler says tests given high school students before they get diplomas are not so controversial now — and they could be improved.

“State high school exit exams are really a growing phenomenon across the country, and they've now developed to a point where a lot of the political controversy around them has died down. So now there's a real opportunity for states to start making improvements in pass rates that have been relatively stable.”

The report says the exams seem to encourage schools to cover more content in their state standards and to help lagging students. But it also says testing seems to narrow curriculum and steer some students away from traditional diplomas. Gayler says the tests do not evaluate skills needed beyond school.

“These exams are really geared toward tenth-grade-level skills — and I think most states would say [that] the point of these exams is not really to ensure college readiness or workplace/force readiness. We're putting other reforms in place to deal with that. They're really a mid-course check to make sure that students have mastered some basic skills.”

More than half of all public high school students must pass exit exams to get a diploma. By 2009, seven in ten students will need to pass such tests.

ACTing Up in High School

Meanwhile, a more commonly-known method of testing for high school students is showing slightly increased scores among graduates — but like the state exit exams, scores are indicating students are not prepared for some core college subjects.

For the first time in seven years, average scores on the ACT college entrance exam rose across the board from the previous year. The high school class of 2004 improved in all subjects and in most ethnic groups. Average composite scores rose one-tenth of a percent, to 20.9, from 20.8 the year before. But that it is still below the average score of 21 recorded by every graduating class from 1997 to 2001.

Still, administrators say this most recent score increase is significant because of the growing number of students who do not plan to attend college who are taking the test, potentially weighing down the scores.

Ken Gullette, director of media relations for ACT, says even though test scores went up slightly, ACT test-takers are still showing significant weaknesses.

“Only 68 percent of the students who tested on the ACT are prepared for college freshman composition,” he explains. The picture gets even worse, he says, when it comes to math and science. “Only 40 percent of ACT-tested high school graduates are prepared for college algebra — and only 26 percent are prepared for college biology,” he says.

The ACT spokesman says the latest results show the narrowest gap ever between male and female test-takers. “The scores of men and women are only separated by one-tenth of a point,” he explains, “and actually, in Colorado and Illinois — where all students take the test — women actually outscore men on the ACT.”

Among other demographics in the test results, scores rose steadily as annual family income increased. Students reporting family income of more than $100,000 scored 23.5, while students from families earning under $18,000 scored 18.

And among ethnic groups, black students posted the lowest average scores, but increased their average scores two-tenths of a point to 17.1. Over the same five-year period (2000-2004), the average composite score among American Indians dropped from 19 to 18.8, and from 18.9 to 18.5 for Hispanics. Scores for white students remained stable at 21.8, while Asian-American students saw an increase of 20.2 to 21.9.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press).

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