[AAACE-NLA] Exit Exams ,Failed Policy, and Low Adult literacy
jataylor_1 at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 1 21:58:25 EDT 2006
Hi Debbie, It's good to see you on the list! I appreciate your message. I thought I'd add an NPR resource for those wanting to know more about the arguments pertaining to exit exams:
Do 'Exit Exams' Make Diplomas More Meaningful? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5411428
( soon to be Edisto-bound...)
Debbie Yoho <dwyoho at earthlink.net> wrote:
Many thanks to Kearney, who has challenged some ideas I offered about the
causes of low literacy. I relish the dialog, to the extent that I have
time to participate in this wonderful forum. Kearney stated:
1. "In your list of failed policies that increase the
incidence of low adult literacy you name the SC high
school exit exam, because, in your opinion, it adds to
the drop-out problem.
If indeed it is true that an increased dropout rate in
SC has been caused by the requirement to take an exit
exam, my question would be, just how does dropping
out before taking an exam contribute to low literacy?..."
In SC, the Exit Exam (now called the HSAP) is required of all students,
even special education students, and must be passed to obtain a diploma.
It is administered in the 10th grade. If the student fails one or more
sections of the test, they have three more chances to re-take and pass the
failed sections. As a high school principal, I saw many students drop out
immediately after taking the test the first time. Most had already failed
a grade or two, and so were also already at least 17 years old.
Certainly it is not the test that "caused" the academic problems of these
students. But I believe the test is failed policy because it can be a
direct catalyst that rejects learners from the educational system.
Sometimes it is the proverbial "final straw" to already stressed and
discouraged learners. In this way I think the policy contributes to the
overall high incidence of adult low literacy. Logically it is not a cause
of individual reading problems.
2. "... Of course, the political pressure that drove many
states to institute exit exams was driven by the
growing recognition that possession of a HS diploma is
not a reliable indicator of possessing a fundamentally
sound education. Regarding these exams, I am curious
to know what alternative you would suggest?"
I agree that the reason and intent for the exams is to insure that a
diploma represents a "fundamentally sound education". But here again is
failed policy. SC has had the exam for more than 20 years, but still the
diploma is widely perceived as no guarantee of anything. The alternative
is an alternative middle school/high school structure for students who fail
to learn to read at the elementary level. Many school districts have such
systems, including many in SC, but the taxpayer has been unwilling to pay
for extensive use of quality alternative programs. A quality program does
not include, by the way, the growing practice of "tacking on" a "young
adult" program to the adult ed system when the administrators are expected
to just add this to their existing duties, and the educational practices
are just a continuation of the traditional high school structure. Quality
alternative education is an art and science all its own.
3. "...If the schools will not (or cannot) teach students to the
level expected by the society that it serves, and if
the students do not take an exam that society has
determined is necessary because of the degraded
criteria behind todays diplomas, how are we to go
about objectively measuring ones level of literacy?"
We have many "objective" measures of literacy, depending on how one defines
literacy, but the high school exit exam is not one of them. I am not
opposed to achievement testing or criterion-referenced testing, so long as
the results are used to develop sound policy.
4. "...I also do not follow this assertion: 'Programs that
break the cycle of low literacy from one generation to
the next are few and far between,..."
I am referring to family literacy programs. They are expensive, effective,
5. "'...and so parents can't equip themselves to help their children...'
Or they dont. Just how much equipage does it take
to tell your child, get out of bed, go to school,
listen to your teachers, or do your homework? The
failure to hold ones children accountable is not due
to a failure of underutilized remediation strategies,
or under-funding of a government program, or because
of the lingering vestiges of segregation. It is
because of poor parents. Abstractions such as cycles and generations
address the concrete causes manifested in the here and
now. The greatest failed policy of our time is
irresponsible parenting, and we cant fix it."
Kearney, perhaps I "hear" frustration, judgment and disgust in these
remarks, and would just point out that there is no evidence anywhere that
"holding children accountable" improves their reading skills. In fact,
many child development experts would argue that in fact ordering children
to perform or behave at levels they cannot only compounds the problem.
There is evidence that parents who are ignorant about child development may
have poor parenting skills. This is precisely why family literacy programs
are so important. But labelling people "poor parents" can lead to policies
and programs that focus only on the child as though the parents are
hopeless, as well as the idea that the child can be "remediated"
independently of the family unit. This is more failed policy, or at least
bad practice. Family literacy practitioners could inundate you with proof
that "irresponsible parenting" can be "fixed."
As for what I call the "legacy of segregation", one of the underlying
dynamics that created segregated school systems in the first place was the
attitude that some people (black people, or perhaps poor people, or rural
people) can't or won't learn so no investments should be made in their
education. Kearney seems to be saying that people he labels "poor parents"
aren't worth an investment. Advocates for adult education have run into
this attitude over and over. It is an attitude often associated with the
idea that low literacy has a quick, efficient "fix".
Perhaps George Demetrion should add one more cause to his list of the
reasons for an adult low literacy "problem": societal attitudes toward
individuals who are different.
"Turning Pages into Possibilities", Debbie
Deborah W. Yoho
Executive Director, Greater Columbia Literacy Council
2728 Devine Street, Columbia, SC 29205
803-765-2555 Fax 803-799-8417 dwyoho at earthlink.net
GCLC is a community service of Volunteers of America of the Carolinas.
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