Thirty years ago, it made sense to require S.C. teens to pass the high school exit exam, a bare-bones test that ensured mastery of basic English and math skills. It had to be passed before students could receive high school diplomas.
Back then, “kids were leaving high schools in our state who couldn’t read or write,” said Melanie Barton, director of the Education Oversight Committee, to The State newspaper. “It (the exit exam) set a minimum level of competency.”
Thanks to the development of federal and state standards and accountability measures, illiterate high school grads are far less of a problem. And the exit exam has become an education relic that is of little use to students, employers or educators.
It’s a good sign to see the test deleted from state law and replaced with more useful tests that speak to our 21st century education needs.
Today, students must aim for – and actively prepare for – technical schools, four-year universities or careers that provide a livable wage.
The exit exam does not help with that effort. Required by state law since 1986, the test is administered to high school sophomores, most of whom easily pass it, then forget about it.
It’s easy to see why the test is forgettable. It only evaluates mastery of a few basics – and it does so two years prior to the time when students are scheduled to graduate.
It provides no direction on additional work they should do during their remaining time in high school to prepare them for college or the workforce. And it gives no indication whether a student should consider going to college or training for a job.
The situation has led South Carolina and several of the other 24 states that require students to pass an exit exam to seek new tests that provide information about students’ aptitude for college or jobs.
South Carolina may have hit on something that will do just that.
Starting next year, 11th graders will take two tests in place of the exit exam:
• ACT’s WorkKeys, which assesses a student’s work skills. It will give students a good idea of what they have mastered and where they need improvement before completing their high school years. Those with high scores can earn certificates that they can take to potential employers. The test has the backing of business leaders, including State Chamber of Commerce President Otis Rawl, who say the test will help match students with the jobs of the future. The certifications “give business and industry people a lot better concept of what (students are) capable of doing,” he said.
• The second test has not been determined yet, but will be one that assesses whether a student is ready for college work. It will be either the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam.
While we wish that only one test was needed to replace the exit exam instead of two, there isn’t an assessment that effectively does both. Thus, both tests are necessary.
Two tests are likely to help some students decide they’re not college material – but they have great potential for a career right after high school.
And since students take the tests as sophomores, they will have time to hone skills, do internships and take coursework that prepares them for whatever path they choose.
So it’s goodbye and good riddance to the high school exit exam. It’s proof that South Carolina is serious about a 21st century education approach.