Branstad proposes exit exams

Sara Gabriele/Editor-in-Chief

Governor Terry Branstad has released a blueprint for overhauling Iowa education.

Included in the Governor’s plans is a measure that will directly affect Iowa high school students: a new graduation requirement in the form of exit examinations.

The proposal calls for end-of-course exams in core subjects such as algebra, biology, English and U.S. history/ U.S. government.

Students will take the exams after completing the course in question and, in the event of failing the exam, will be given opportunities to retake the tests after receiving remedial help.

Linda Fandel, special assistant for education to Branstad, said that education leaders backed away from a previously proposed comprehensive exit exam because they felt end-of-course tests would provide a greater opportunity to test in-depth learning.

“We want to make sure high school students are getting a strong foundation,” Fandel said.

“It’s critical that students graduate from high school ready for college or career training.”

Twenty-one states currently implement variations of such tests.

Although not all states link the tests to graduation, Iowa officials are currently leaning towards this model.

“Students must take responsibility for making the most of the time they have in school,” Fandel said.

“We want students to take these end-of-course exams very seriously.”

Many CFHS teachers have mixed feelings about the exams.

Math teacher Rich Strike, who teaches pre-algebra and algebra I, said that he can see benefits that exit exams would present for lower-level classes.

“As a teacher, it will make me pinpoint exactly what students need to know and make surethey have those specific areas mastered,” Strike said.

However, Strike added that this will also mean taking a lot of the exploration and creativity out of his courses, so from a teaching perspective, he is not enthusiastic.

Chemistry teacher Lynn Griffin, who teaches honors and AP chemistry, echoed Strike’s claims that the tests will most likely affect lower-level classes more than mid-level or honors classes.

“It probably won’t change much in the high end of the spectrum because we’re already surpassing the benchmarks,” Griffin said.

Although few details have been released, Fandel said education leaders are looking at modeling the exams after the system in Virginia where students take Standards of Learning (SOL) exams in core areas and must pass them to receive a diploma.

Lina Zimmerman is a high school senior from James Monroe High School who currently takes the SOLs in Fredericksburg, Va.

She said that, although the tests do help keep students on track with learning material, they force teachers to teach to a test that only requires fact recall-based learning.

“Unlike the SAT, which is a reasoning test, SOLs require memorization of facts and figures. A student could ‘pass advance’ on their 10th grade history SOL because they knew all the who what and whens of the Civil War, but they wouldn’t be required to analyze the causes of the war or understand the lasting effects,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said that she feels the tests put a lot of stress on teachers, which can compromise their instruction.

“Teachers spend so much time worrying about what questions the SOL will ask; students don’t get to really explore the subjects in-depth,” Zimmerman said.

However, the standardized nature of the exams does present its benefits.

Zimmerman said that because across-the-board standards are set, students receive the same quality of education no matter which school they attend, and it allows states to pinpoint trouble areas, making it easier for the state to improve.

“In a sense, SOLs regulate the school systems,” Zimmerman said said.

Many CFHS teachers look favorably on having clear end goals in mind.

Griffin said her recent experience teaching AP has caused her to see more benefits in having a set of standards to work toward; however, Griffin made clear that her opinion depends upon the exact nature and content of the proposed exams.

“We won’t know what this means for the school until we see the details,” Griffin said.

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