I'm dating myself, but I was actually part of the first graduating class that the Big Guy and his constituents decided would use as Exhibit A for the California High School Exit Exam. That's the Class of 2006.
I remember leaving the test site as a 15-year-old sophomore thinking, "that's all that the state wants me to know in order to graduate?" My teachers did little to prepare us for the test because none of us really knew what to expect. Turns out, all we needed to know was 8th-grade math and reading/writing.
Fast forward five years: I'm in high school yet again, this time preparing a 10th grade algebra student, S, for her upcoming CAHSEE. By the end the class period, I remained in my seat, my head in my hands, dazed and exhausted.
I'll get back to this in a bit, but first I want to write about a talk that I attended this afternoon. It was held at UC Berkeley by a Professor Emerita of Education, Lily Wong Fillmore.
"The CAHSEE is easy," she began. "The CAHSEE is supposed to set the bottom line in order to graduate... it is comprised of two sections: language arts and math."
Easy? I spent this entire semester learning about shortcomings and unfairness of standardized testing, tutoring (and failed at tutoring) kids on standardized testing, and here, a professor stood before me saying that the CAHSEE is too easy?
She then handed out released test questions from both the CAHSEE and the state test issued to high school students in
We compared sample questions from
Basically, it boils down to this --
Regardless of where a student’s home state sets the bar, S was not able to complete or comprehend a single problem from the bank of practice questions. She was frustrated because she felt that she didn't know anything. I was frustrated because the questions were complex and multi-step, meaning although she knew enough math to get her through the first half of the problem, she did not know enough math to get her a right answer. In other cases, the math problems were too wordy; she couldn’t understand what the test was asking of her.
I felt bad for S. What was she going to do? I was pretty confident that she was going to get a big, fat zero on the test that was coming up in a few days. There wasn’t enough time to cover everything that she would need to know for the test. After she takes the test, she will forget about it and go on with schooling for the next year until it’s time to retake the very same test. Who is going to teach her eight grade math and language arts by then?
The kicker: after I took the CAHSEE back in 2004, I received a letter in the mail informing me that I did not pass the test and that I would not graduate high school until I retook and passed the exam. It turns out there was some kind of administrative mistake in the mail room, and they accidently sent that letter to me and all of my classmates.