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Redesign secondary school curricula, exit exam

A sad reality I face every day as a university professor is, in one way or another, providing feedback to students unprepared for college work that signals to them their plight. It’s unfortunate because, theoretically, students who meet our admissions standards ought to be prepared for college work – especially since a number of them will have received “scholarships” from the state indicating, at the very least, they should be capable of college work.

While many students wash out or have initial difficulty in college because their attitudes aren’t right, that many were not adequately prepared further vexes as a public policy problem because a high school diploma in Louisiana, requiring passage of a defined curriculum and exit exam, with a sufficient grade point average theoretically defines college preparedness. Yet if a significant number of those who pass the courses with the required GPA and the exam are unprepared, there is a disconnection in the system.

The purpose of the exit exam, the Graduate Exit Exam, is to provide a standard beyond internal evaluation at each school. Somebody strolling through Louisiana high schools would notice vast differences in the demands being made on students, so the GEE attempts to present a uniform assessment of performance statewide. Students must pass it to get a diploma.

However, some fault the GEE for providing incentive for the school to focus on teaching to pass it, which may detract from knowledge and skills acquisition needed to succeed in college. If that is the case, then one of two decisions or both of them must be made and implemented. One would be to shape the GEE more to a facsimile of a college entrance exam. This would require consultation between state secondary and university systems to make the exam both indicative of knowledge and skills desired to be imparted in high school and those useful to collegiate success.

The problem would be that this would limit the GEE’s ability to assess whether students capably had completed high school for those intending not to go to college. Hence, secondly, a GEE variant for these individuals must be developed. It could be set up so that for the 11th grade testing that the student would choose which track, collegiate or not, to pursue, with a different GEE for each. The difference would be that a TOPS award, the “scholarship” program, would come automatically with a passage of the “collegiate” GEE, but would not with the passage of the vocational-oriented GEE. But passage of either would suffice for a high school diploma.

This strategy would require some redesign of high school curricula. All such schools would have to offer a vocational track which the student would have to decide (say prior to entering the 11th grade) whether to pursue but the curriculum for which would be constructed to satisfy the “vocational” GEE requirements. The “collegiate” GEE then would then have as a dual purpose testing for the ability to succeed in college, much as the ACT test does currently.

With the proper design, students will have a better chance of succeeding in both high school and college (whether they will is a matter mostly up to them, and partly as a result of teacher quality, a subject best taken up at another time). At the very least, it would make less likely under-prepared consuming resources from which they cannot benefit in college at the expense of those who can.

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