Friday, July 16, 2004

Exit exams in Alaska

From Susan Ohanian, news of a site  devoted to increasing communication about  education inequities in Alaska.  Here's more on their exit exam situation, and it's not a good thing.
It's the creation of a second-class society, this thing called the exit exam. Scores of students from specific cultures or demographic backgrounds will be given certificates of achievement starting this year instead of diplomas. But who would know it and who will help change it? Numbers released last month by Alaska's Department of Education and Early Development show that if today's high school students are given the Exit Exam and three retakes, then some troubling patterns emerge. Forty-six percent of Alaska Native students will no longer be receiving diplomas. Instead, the chosen form of a reward to students who finish high school will be the "Certificate of Achievement." Students from lower-income families will be also hit hard. A resounding 47 percent of these students will be unable to pass the exit exam and thus will be eligible for a certificate, should they remain in school to receive it. Finally, the group that loses the most will be bilingual or limited English proficient (LEP) students. For these students, a stunning 60 percent will never pass the exit exam and never know what it is like to finish high school with a diploma - even if they fulfill their school's requirements.
For those who say, well maybe they deserve this, they aren't learning well which is why they aren't doing well on tests and other authoritarian Calvinistic conservative worldview bull, here's a bit on what is actually on the test. 
Still, the state's practice exam, which is located online, just happens to show the same sense of bias against Alaska Natives, lower-income students and LEP students that I was talking about. In it you will find multiple illustrations using the toys of the middle and upper classes, questions about things like Palm Pilots, cell phones, long distance calling plans and traveling out of state. How often can these things be found in the Bush? Many villages have no need for Palm Pilots and 85 percent of them lack cellular access. In villages, there is often only a single long-distance calling provider, not a choice between two of them. The illustrations are inherently more unfamiliar to some of the state's students. Yet worse things happen. On the test, there is the implied idea that if you don't have these urban toys you haven't really succeeded as a student. Statements like "most students" have these things and "most people have cell phones handy most of the time" are on the practice exam.
Palm pilots and cell phones?  Hello.  If anyone thinks these tests are not culturally biased and fair, then they must live in an alternate universe where everyone is uppermiddle class with parents who are professionals and live in an urban setting.