The prompt went something like this:
“Current research has shown that 12th graders are leaving high school less and less prepared this year. Exit exams have been put into place in many school systems; if the senior does not pass these exams, they will not be allowed to graduate. How do you feel about this? In a well-developed essay, describe whether or not this is a good idea.”
Noah Caldwell (12/20/11)
Hon. English II Midterms
Research has suggested that modern 12th graders are leaving high school less and less prepared each year. In an effort to prevent this, some states require that all graduates pass assigned exams to leave high school. I think this is rather misguided- tests don’t make kids learn, teachers do.
If we ignore the research pointing towards kids not learning very much, we have a basic situation: kids go to school, learn something (hopefully), and go home. Tests are considered an important part of education now, because our society places emphasis on knowing who is better at what (even though you can’t really assign numbers to knowledge or intelligence). The tests are there as a message to kids, teachers, and prospective employers to tell how much this kid understood the lessons in this course.
Now consider the research. It implies that high schoolers are learning less and less each year (or that standards are being raised; in any case, the kids are less prepared). Oh no! Why is this happening? The first step to solving a problem is finding the root of it. Are parents placing a lesser emphasis on learning, or are they accepting poorer results? Are the teachers of a lower quality, or are they teaching more and more every year? Is this just standard deviation that will even out in time? Is the research faulty somehow? Possibly. Any one of those questions could hold the solution to this problem. It seems that the student is being blamed for this: obviously they are not studying enough.
Perhaps that is true- I would certainly believe it. But placing more tests to ensure that high schoolers are learning enough is not an ideal solution, nor a universal one. Many kids simply do bad on standardized tests. Many teachers fail to teach all they are supposed to, but instead teach what the class can understand. I sympathize with them- sometimes the requirements for those classes can be very difficult. Most importantly of all, tests do not teach anything. Teachers teach, and tests test. Sure, if the test is failed, we can sentence the child to another year of high school- but will they really want to stay another year? And would they learn anything new this time around? It is no secret that the vast majority of high schoolers are biased against learning new things (in my experience). If we keep shipping them through the system because they cannot pass our mandated requirements, we have an eventual clog.
A much more effective and longer-lasting solution would be to get kids interested in learning, and then they might put more effort into school. They might even do independent research on a subject that interests them! Instead of talking about how important college is (not to downplay that), talk about how much fun knowledge is, and all the cool things you can do with it! Hold mock trials in Government. Build rockets and bridges in Chemistry and Physics. Predict how far the rockets will go in math. Reenact important events in History, and build software that everyone has interest in (like a city planner, or a simple but addictive game) during computer classes. Build an engine in automotive classes, and play the latest hits in band. The most important thing a kid can learn in high school is that learning is fun, and does not have to be a chore. If they know that, then a teacher’s work will be complete.