Testimony of FairTest's Monty Neill to the Maryland Joint Committee on Education/Ways and Means

for immediate release, Monday, March 17, 2008

MD. LEGISLATORS URGED TO BAR HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION TESTS; REFORM LEADERS TESTIFY “EXIT EXAMS CREATE MORE HARM THAN GOOD,” FAIL TO IMPROVE QUALITY OF EDUCATION FOR UNDERSERVED STUDENTS

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), the country’s leading assessment reform organization, today called on Maryland legislators to prohibit the State Board of Education from requiring students to pass a test or series of exams in order to receive a high school diploma. In testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Education/Ways and Means, FairTest Deputy Director Monty Neill, Ed.D., wrote, “More than two decades of evidence demonstrates that high school graduation tests are the wrong prescription for what ails public education.”

Dr. Neill testified that exit exams fail to address the serious problems many Maryland public schools face, noting, “Maryland, like most states, has gaps in educational access, quality and outcomes. But exit exams won’t cure these ills. For too many students, the cure is worse than the diseases. Rather than provide better education and expanded opportunities, graduation tests add punishment – denial of a diploma – to those who most need help.”

The FairTest testimony included data from Texas and California, where drop-our rates rose after those states adopted high school exit exams. It also argued that high-stakes testing “undermines rather than improves education. Untested subjects are ignored, while tested topics narrow to test coaching programs. Since these tests are mostly multiple-choice, students focus on rote learning to identify correct answers instead of learning to think and apply their knowledge.”

In Massachusetts, whose exit exam Maryland test proponents frequently praise, dropouts increased among minority and limited English proficient students after an exit exam requirement was adopted, according to statistics provided by FairTest. The problem was particularly severe in low-income urban districts, such as Boston. FairTest’s national headquarters is in Massachusetts.

As an alternative to the proposed graduation testing mandate, FairTest called on Maryland to follow the lead of states such as Rhode Island, Wyoming and Nebraska, which use multiple measures to award diplomas. “Other states have avoided the exit exam route specifically because they recognized the costs can outweigh the benefits . . . We would be pleased to work with you and Maryland educators, parents and citizens to craft a different approach to graduation, one that would rely on local determinations of adequate achievement but that would establish methods to ensure the quality of the local determinations,” the FairTest testimony concluded.

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