Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No Exit

When I was in high school, I had to take final exams. We were told in advance how rigorous they would be and how important they were to our futures, at least as far as that future was connected to graduating high school. By the time I was a senior, I understood the game pretty well: If I had been paying attention during the semester upon which I was being tested, I was going to pass the test. That didn't keep the anxiety from crushing down on top of me and all my friends the week before school let out. We all studied, or made the appearance of studying in those days leading up to the end. Final. If we were lucky, we had a really cool teacher who would make taking the test optional. You only had to take it if you really needed it. Or in some very wild cases, there were those teachers who "didn't believe in tests," and instead of filling blue books with all the memorized details of months of higher learning we watched a movie.
Nowadays, some teachers still feel the need to torment their students with the eventual summation of all the knowledge with which they have been imbued, or excuse them from such arduous oppression. That doesn't mean that they go without the experience. Across this great land of ours, high school students are being asked to prove how clever they are by taking exit exams. Not that each and every one of them couldn't point to the way out. If only it were that simple. Instead, almost half of the United States is asking its kids to show how much they've learned at the end of their senior year so that they can be released into the world as well-educated-proto-adults. Make that "adequately-educated."
Then there's this: A new study by researchers Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang at the National Bureau of Economic Research links exit exams to high rates of incarceration.The study found that of the students who take one of these exams, about one percent fail. In turn, they don't receive diplomas. This same one percent had a much greater chance, a twelve point five percent chance, of going to jail. Not that their grades were necessarily worth being put in jail for, but rather "Exit exams represent a single set of tests that trumps years of work that students have completed," Anthony Cody, author of the Living in Dialogue blog and a retired Oakland teacher. "Research shows some students experience great anxiety when taking high-stakes tests, and are unable to show what they are capable of." Taking all those twelve years in school before the test for granted and putting all the pressure on that one morning?
I think I'd rather take those finals, thanks.

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