July 24, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

High School Exit Exams

Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.

C.C. Colton, 1820

The California State Board of Education has done some idiotic things in the past, but the most idiot scheme that they have put forward is the high school exit exam. In this time of money shortages, they have mandated, at considerable cost, an examination that a student has to pass in order to get a high school diploma. It is even more idiotic than the silly hats and gowns that are worn at graduations or those corny school songs..

There is some point to an examination to find out if someone is qualified to practice medicine or dentistry. Its purpose is to protect the public from incompetence. Does it do so? Of course not. No matter what test someone goes through it won't protect the public from a greedy scoundrel. I remember a professor of medicine saying, "When I see what we are producing, when I get sick I am going to eat grass."

More often than not, exams are designed to humiliate those who have not learned what some teacher wanted him to learn. This, despite the fact that what the teacher wanted him to learn may not be worth learning. In the case of exit exams, it is not the teacher, but the state that is ordering and paying for the exam. This at a time when teachers are being fired and class sizes are being increased.

So what if all that a young man learned was how to shave and play football, or a young woman learned whatever the female equivalent is, or they learn how to engage in sex? They will have put 4 years of their lives into something and they deserves the reward for having done so. That puny reward is a piece of paper called a high school diploma. Like a college diploma, it signifies time spent, and nothing more. Nor should it.

We don't expect everyone to learn to play a musical instrument, or paint pictures, write books, play baseball, golf or tennis. Why then should every young person be required to learn geometry, or history or geography?

The vast majority of students have learned the essentials before they start high school They can read a newspaper, which makes them "literate." Some have learned a good deal more.

I was taught a lot in school and college. What I used, I remembered. What I didn't use, I forgot. This is true for all people at all educational levels.

We know that people are all different. Some are endowed with exceptional mental ability and others are not. By the same token, some are endowed with physical strength or ability. Some are industrious and some are not. There is a whole range in between. People with exceptional ability are often praised and otherwise rewarded for it. But it makes no sense to punish or humiliate those who are not so endowed. That is what exit exams are designed to do; humiliate!

There is only one test that is worth anything, and that test is what a person does with his/her life. All of the other tests are hogwash.

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