By Will Sentell
Capitol news bureau
September 26, 2012
Louisiana is part of a growing trend among states requiring public high school students to pass end-of-course tests before they qualify for a traditional diploma, according to a national report.
The study was done by the Center on Education Policy, which has been reviewing high school exit exams since 2002.
At that time, the report says, only two states required students to pass end-of-course tests, which are designed to make sure students master basic skills in key courses before they pursue college or careers.
But Louisiana’s rules changed starting with students who were ninth-graders in 2010.
Under the old rules, students had to clear the Graduation Exit Exam, which meant passing marks on math, English and either science or social studies tests, to qualify for a standard diploma.
Those tests measured multiple subjects on the same exam.
Under the new policy, students have to earn passing marks on at least three end-of-course tests out of six.
Those exams test what students know on a single course.
The subjects are Algebra I or geometry; English 2 or English 3 and biology or American history.
Eight other states rely on end-of-course tests, and more are expected to go that way, said Shelby McIntosh, a research associate with the CEP and author of the study.
“We definitely do expect it to continue,” McIntosh said of the popularity of end-of-course exams.
The CEP calls itself an independent advocate for public education.
It is based in Washington, D. C.
Aside from Louisiana states that rely on end-of-course checks are Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia and Massachusetts, which administers both comprehensive and end-of-course tests.
They are usually given in the 10th and 11th grades.
In 2011-12, 25 states required their students to pass an exit exam to get a diploma.
Rhode Island will become the 26th starting with the class of 2014, according to the report.
McIntosh said educators are moving to end-of-course exams in part because it is easier to align what is taught and what is tested.
The style of tests that Louisiana used to give, she said, covered a variety of areas over several school years.
Students began taking those tests during the 2000-2001 school year.
Diplomas were withheld for students who failed the GEE starting in 2003.
Students were allow to retake the math and English portions of the GEE six times and three times for the science and social studies.
Backers contend the tests are a good way to ensure that students leave high school with essential skills.
But the CEP has said in previous reports that the value of the tests in Louisiana and elsewhere is hard to prove, and may even hurt the high school graduation rate.
McIntosh’s group has previously praised Louisiana as one of a handful of states that showed solid gains in narrowing the achievement gap between white and black students on the GEE.
However, major gaps reappeared when the state started giving end-of-course exams.
McIntosh said she has not seen data that sheds light on whether the move to those tests will help or hurt efforts to narrow achievement levels by race and other factors.
Even after the recent switch in Louisiana still more changes are planned.
Like most states Louisiana has adopted a plan — called common core standards — to make public school classes more rigorous, and to better compare achievement levels among states.
State officials here say they plan to replace the current exit exams with revamped tests linked to the new standards, which start in 2014.