You can almost hear the collective cry from teachers and parents: testing, testing, and more testing. On the same day this week that the creators of the ACT college admissions test announced a record 1.42 million test-takers in 2008, the folks at the Center on Policy Education (CPE) put out a separate report about another test that is gaining traction in schools nationwide. Known as an "end-of-course" exam, it's similar to a final exam taken upon completion of a course, but it's a standardized statewide test.
Advocates say end-of-course exams, if done right, can better predict college success and work readiness than grades or comprehensive exit exams. But end-of-course exams present their own challenges. They are costly and are not popular with parents who worry about too much testing in schools. Besides the statewide assessment in the 10th-grade that's required under No Child Left Behind, many college-bound students must prepare for the SAT, the ACT, and Advanced Placement exams. In 23 states, high school students must also pass a comprehensive exit exam to obtain a diploma. While bright, motivated students are not likely to stumble on end-of-course exams, they add to the pressure. Like exit exams, end-of-course tests carry serious consequences. In some states, a student will be required to obtain passing scores on these tests to receive a diploma. In other states, students' scores will be one part of a graduation formula.
The CPE, an independent education research group in Washington, D.C., says more states are moving toward these end-of-course tests. By 2014, 14 states are expected to test students in core subjects such as algebra, English, and biology using end-of-course exams. Critics of exit exams have already taken California and Arizona to court for withholding diplomas from students who did poorly, including English learners. Critics say the consequences of failure are too harsh and say a single test score should not determine the fate of a student. Tell us what you think. Can standardized end-of-course tests bring more accountability and improve education? Or are they just another test?