In late March, more than 1,000 high school sophomores in the Aiken County School District took what is commonly known as the exit exam, just as students before them have done so in South Carolina for 28 years.
But the S.C. General Assembly said “no more,” and on Monday, as Gov. Nikki Haley signed new legislation that eliminates the exit exam.
Lawmakers ended the use of that test or any future test as a graduation requirement.
The exit exam is more formally known as the High School Assessment Program, or HSAP.
Students took the test over three days. Those who failed English or math or both could retake the exam up to five times through their senior year in order to graduate – even if a students received 24 credits as required for a diploma.
“This primarily has affected some students with special needs,” said Dr. Randy Stowe, the Aiken School District's director of administration. “The biggest criticism I've always seen is that a single test means so much and can keep a student from graduating.”
The legislative measure has another key component.
Students over the past decades who didn't receive a diploma based on the exit exam now will have the opportunity to appeal to get that diploma.
The new law will require the use of two assessments that students will begin taking in their junior year.
Those tests will have no direct impact on graduation, as HSAP did.
The General Assembly already has identified WorkKeys as one of those assessments. That's a product of ACT, the organization that provides the familiar college-entrance exam.
“It measures employability skills,” said Bryan Skipper, the South Aiken High School principal. “It covers a lot of basic skills in terms of what it measures, such as career alignment and skills.”
Although interest in WorkKeys has been growing, students in career and technology education classes and others in adult education programs tend to be those who use it most. Their results can be provided to employers.
A second assessment has been not identified yet, and “This is very late for not knowing it yet,” Stowe said. “The federal government does require a high school assessment, but we have no guidance from the state now.”
The need for a second assessment could be filled by ACT or SAT, the other entrenched college-entry exam – a requirement for the second test.
Both exams have restructured to accommodate more critical-thinking opportunities.
“The big issue is that we don't know what the college-ready test will be,” Stowe said. “We need to know as soon as possible, and I hope the state doesn't take too long. We will need to plan on the curriculum.”
S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, serves on the S.C. House education and public works committee.
“We heard from numerous educators and administrators,” he said. “They were all about eliminating the exit exam. They felt strongly about one test being a pass/fail for getting a diploma. That was not in students' best interests ... We heard testimony that the exam is not a good measure of someone's school success.”
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.