So here we are, about to plunge into the era of Common Core, that much-debated matrix of standards outlining what students must know when they leave high school. And what happens if they don’t.
That last aspect – exit exams – is the focus of an exhaustive report released Tuesday by New America, a public policy think tank, which marshals powerful evidence against using standardized tests as a requirement for graduation. Research shows that these graduation benchmarks have done little to improve overall student achievement, while increasing dropout rates – particularly among black and Hispanic students, the report says.
Yet Common Core comes with exactly such an assessment. Known as Smarter Balanced, the test is designed to measure readiness for college-level work, and many educators say their students are not yet ready to tackle it. (No surprise, considering that half of incoming community college students need remedial math.)
Some teachers estimate that, initially, thousands of students who take the test will fail.
The question, then, becomes: Should passing Smarter Balanced be a graduation requirement? Anne Hyslop, an education policy analyst and author of the New America report, says categorically: No.
“It’s not the smartest decision,” she said. “You don’t want to flip a switch overnight and suddenly 20 percent of students can’t meet the requirements.”
In response, some states — like Idaho and New Jersey — are planning to go cold-turkey on exit exams for a year while they ramp up for the Common Core. Washington, on the other hand, will add Smarter Balanced to its battery of student assessments, even though passing or failing it will have no bearing on graduation. At least, not yet.
Students and teachers may bristle at the phase-in approach because it means even more testing than already exists. But Hyslop says there’s value in Smarter Balanced. The key is how it’s used.
“I see the exam as well worth students’ time because it gives a much better sense of how they’re going to do in college,” she said. “It was designed for that, and there’s real predictive power there. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to require state tests, but given that you’ve decided to have one, I think you have a pretty smart approach for moving forward.”