In Our View: Fewer Exit Exams

OSPI chief Randy Dorn has the right idea; three proficiency tests are enough

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When it comes to requiring high school students to pass exit tests to receive a diploma, Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is correct in two ways: "I support testing. But at what point are we spending too much time and money on these tests?"That profound statement was written by Dorn in a Dec. 18 op-ed for The Seattle Times. Then Thursday, he was quoted in an Associated Press story, after being asked if five tests (more than any other state) for this year's 10th-graders really matters: "I can't see a difference."

That's why the OSPI chief wants to reduce the number of tests to three. We agree, and Dorn cites two compelling reasons: Saving taxpayers money, and saving time for teachers and students who would be able to reduce what has become an intense focus on exit-exam preparation.

Dorn has the support of the state teachers union. "We need to have high standards for our kids, and we want them to be achieving at a high level," Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist said in the AP story. But, she added: "Testing and testing and more testing is not going to get us to that goal."

Dorn also has the support of the State Board of Education, which endorsed his exit-test-reduction plan at its most recent meeting.

We can imagine teachers' heads nodding affirmatively upon hearing Dorn's proposal to spend less time "teaching to the test." We also can imagine students and parents sighing with delight at the prospect of diverting untold test-prep hours toward more fruitful learning exercises.

Starting in 2015, Dorn wants to reduce the number of exit exams from five (reading, writing, algebra, geometry and biology, for this year's 10th-graders) to three: English language arts, algebra and biology. That would seem to pretty much cover all the proficiency bases, as we see it.

Consider, as well, other requirements for a high school diploma. Few states have increased academic standards as much as Washington in the past two years. Starting last year, high school credit requirements have increased in English, math and social studies. To receive a diploma, a Washington student, in addition to acquiring the prescribed minimum course credits, must complete a senior project and write a plan for life beyond high school.

The potential savings from Dorn's proposed change are not precise, but he estimates a potential annual savings of $20 million for the state, and he has said individual exit exams cost about $30 each.

To define Dorn as anti-exit exam would be a mistake. As a legislator, he helped write the state's Education Reform Act of 1993, which called for higher standards and more proficiency tests. But, as he also wrote in the op-ed: "Reducing the number of exit exams will not reduce accountability, nor will it lower standards. It may, however, provide additional time for students to study other important subjects including art, music and career and technical education."

That's why we urge legislators to agree with Dorn and reduce the number of exit exams to three.