The number of California high school dropouts spiked in 2006, the first year seniors were required to pass an exit exam to graduate, according to a report presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education.That’s the double-edge sword of the standards movement: the higher the standard, the higher the number of kids who won’t reach it. Talk about “no child” aside, simple statistics and observation tells us that not every kid will reach any standard we set, no matter where it falls on the difficulty spectrum.
The analysis found that 24,000 high school seniors dropped out in 2006, about 10,000 more than just four years earlier.
The information could give ammunition to lawmakers and others who have criticized the exam, as well as those who have lobbied for alternative assessments.
The firm that prepared the report, Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va., made several recommendations to the board, including a suggestion that California explore other ways for high school seniors to demonstrate proficiency. In Massachusetts and Washington state, for example, students can be judged on a portfolio of their high school work.
Jack O'Connell, superintendent of public instruction, has consistently opposed such an option. His chief deputy, Gavin Payne, told the board that the superintendent thought all but one of the recommendations were "extremely good."
The report's findings validate the argument that the test is hardest on students who do not have access to good schools or good teachers, said Liz Guillen, director of legislative and community affairs for the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates. That applies mostly to poor and minority students, she said.
Most students are able to pass the exam in time for graduation, although critics note that as graduation day approaches more students drop out of school and stop being counted.
In the class of 2007, for example, 93 percent of the senior class had passed the test by last May.
Students begin taking the test during their sophomore year and have multiple chances to pass the exam, which measures English, math and algebra skills.
The most recent exit exam results showed that more than 88 percent of black and Hispanic students passed the test, with both groups increasing their success rates but still lagging behind whites and Asians.
Then, when you tell a student that they can’t graduate, is it really any surprise that some will quit?
There’s a real possibility that we’re at the trough stage of a new dropout crisis that will show itself as the graduation requirements amp up. The question of what to do about it is the tough one.
In other dropout news, the National High School Center has released a report called “Approaches to Dropout Prevention: Heeding Early Warning Signs With Appropriate Intervention” that argues we can identify those kids at risk of dropping out as early as 6th grade. They recommend paying close, close attention to the data to see who’s at risk. The Alliance for Excellent Education looked at dropout statistics for 2007 and came to the conclusion that the economy lost a potential $330 billion dollars because of those kids not finishing school.
No one can say that the dropout problem hasn’t been studied. It hasn’t been fixed—it may not be fixable—but it sure has been studied.