Letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, 5/6/03:
To the Editor:
In Tuesday's Chronicle, there's an editorial titled
"Postpone the exit exam." From the editorial:
"Question: Why shouldn't all students be required
to demonstrate minimum competence on a
statewide test before earning their [sic] high school
"Answer: Because nearly 100,000 students will
flunk the test, with possibly disastrous
consequences for both the students and the state."
The population of California is about 33 million.
Human life expectancy is about 75 years, with the
younger age-cohorts somewhat larger than the
older ones. That means that there are about half
a million students graduating every year. (The
editorial agrees: "A just-completed review of the
exam shows that one in five students in the class
of 2004 wil flunk the exam . . .")
It's my experience that at least 20% of adults are
woefully deficient in basic skills. For the state to
certify those who cannot pass a simple exam
covering the basic high school curriculum as
"high school graduates" is simply lying.
Requiring people to actually learn the subject
matter before we hand them a diploma just makes
sense. This can't be done without a certain
amount of pain, but delaying the requirement
won't solve the problem, and neither will dumbing
down the test. A 20% failure rate is about right.
Let the lunkheads spend an extra year in school.
The editorial concluded:
"Board President Reed Hastings last week said he
was ready to delay the exam's implementation for
up to three years. The rest of the board should
join him and vote to postpone it without delay.
This is a clear-cut case of a potentially sound
reform that many schools are not ready to
If the schools aren't shocked by a high percentage
of failing students they'll never get their act
together. Not only should school districts and
individual schools be held accountable for the
performance of their students (relative to their
native ability scores), but individual teachers
should be held accountable for their students'
performance in the subjects they teach. If your
students flunk, you're fired.
P.O. Box 795
Berkeley, CA 94701
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