State BOE ends grad exam

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Alabama’s high school graduation exam is officially a thing of the past, after being voted down by the State Board of Education on Thursday, and local superintendents are hailing the decision as a “good thing.”

Alabama students who were in ninth grade during the 2010-11 school year will not be required to take the test, known as the “exit exam.” Those students, who are seniors this year, will graduate, provided they have passed all of their major core classes; however, students who were in the ninth grade before the 2010-11 school year and are one or two grades behind, will still have to pass the test in order to graduate.

Alabama Superintendent Tommy Bice, who has referred to the test as a “waste of time” in the past, said the exam was simply not a good measuring stick of a student’s actual scholastic progression.

Covington County Superintendent Shannon Driver agreed with Bice, calling the 30-year institution a poor reflection of what students learn in high school.

“It’s one of those high-stakes tests,” Driver said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the kids to pass that one test that doesn’t take into account a lot of the things the kids learned.”

Driver also said the “high-stakes” environment isn’t always conducive to students giving an accurate demonstration of what they have learned.

“They may be students that make good grades, but they don’t do particularly well on a high-stakes test on a given day,” he said.

Following the state BOE’s vote last week, Bice said the board will move towards end-of-course testing for the core curriculum classes students are required to take in high school.

“This kind of brings us in-line with everything that we’re doing with the rest of our students,” Driver said of the proposed end-of-course testing. “Our current ninth, 10th and 11th graders are not on the graduation exam system anymore. They are doing the end-of-course tests, so this makes us consistent with all four of our grades. We think it’s a good thing overall.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart has also gotten behind the school board’s decision to disband the exit exam. Smithart said cutting out the test is just another step in a transition that began with less federal control on schools following the break up of the No Child Left Behind initiative – a program many state school leaders saw as intrusive and binding.

“This is more about Alabama’s transition to a new accountability model utilizing end-of-course tests,” Smithart said. “We were essentially using the exit exam, it was all or nothing for the student, but it was also serving as a piece of our accountability system.

“When we were granted the waiver from some of the No Child Left Behind requirements, we moved to a different accountability system, which allowed us to opt-out, or no longer use the exit exam.”

Smithart said he feels the “all-or-nothing” approach of the graduation exam was not beneficial to the student or the school.

“I’m of the belief that the term course work should be rigorous enough that, if students can successfully complete it, they should earn a high school diploma. The course itself should demonstrate proficiency.”

As of right now, according to BOE members, that is exactly what will happen. With end-of-course testing only currently in place in 10th grade English and Algebra I, students will only be required to pass their teacher-assigned coursework in order to earn a diploma.

Smithart said those requirements include “finals,” which may soon be replaced by state-mandated end-of-course testing.

“(Mid-terms and finals) are developed by the teacher,” Smithart said. “(End-of-course tests) will be a state-developed test. It’s going to be a lot different than your traditional final. It’s going to be a standards-based test.”

Whether or not students will be required to take end-of-course tests in addition to finals, Smithart said, remains to be seen.

“That’s a local decision,” he said. “We haven’t got there yet. My assumption is, once all of the end-of-course tests are rolled out, we’ll probably use it in lieu of a teacher-developed test.”

End-of-course testing currently in place for 10th grade English and Algebra I has not yet been assigned a score students must reach in order to pass, and BOE members say scores from this year will be used as a “baseline” for future testing.