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Vermont Won't Require High-Schoolers to Pass Exit Exams

Susan Notes: I don't like the underlying implication that if Vermont had more immigrants, we'd need to force everybody to pass a test to get a high school diploma, but nonetheless, we are rejoicing that there will be no exit test requirement.

By Louis Porter

MONTPELIER Vermont is likely to redesign its high school exit exams over the next few years, but will not require students to pass them in order to graduate, the state's top education official said Tuesday.

Richard Cate, the state's commissioner of education, commented on the tests on a day when a national study of high school exit exams was released.

The study by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy based in Washington, found that the tests required for graduation in half of the states did little to reduce the "achievement gap" among students of different backgrounds.

The study found that students who do not speak English as a first language are not doing well on the tests a situation that does not seem to be getting better, said Patty Sullivan, director of the center.

"The achievement gap is not closing," she said.

Vermont is not seeing anything like the increase in non-English-speaking students that other parts of the country are, Cate said.

For instance, in South Carolina that population has grown by 521 percent in the last decade.

Vermont has a relatively small population of students who are learning English, in part from refuge-resettlement programs and tend to be concentrated in Brattleboro, Burlington and Winooski.

"It pales in comparison with other states," Cate said.

Vermont does not require that students pass the achievements tests to graduate from high school. The state already has programs in place to track and reach students who need help, a central reason for such a requirement in other states, Cate said.

"We have disadvantaged students in Vermont, but we know where they are because we have small school districts," said Cate, who knows the tests well from his years in the New York education system. "I am not convinced we would gain a whole lot from an exit exam in Vermont."

The Center on Education Policy's study found that the tests may give a short-term bump in education performance by focusing resources, but probably does not have a long-term impact.

Jack Jennings, president and chief executive officer of the Center on Education Policy, said states like Vermont which are confident in their school systems are less likely to require passage of high school exit exams for graduation.

Vermont's test, called the New Standards Reference Exam, is likely to go through some changes in a year or two, Cate said.

Some teachers have said students do not concentrate on the test as much as they could, because they know their score will not have a large impact, Cate said.

"They know this exam doesn't get them into colleges and it doesn't keep them from graduating if they don't do well," he said.

One possibility is that Vermont's high school tests will be based on the SAT or ACT tests used in college admissions, Cate said. Or the state may develop customized tests for high school students, like it has for lower grades.

The tests now used in Vermont satisfy the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, he said.

Contact Louis Porter at louis.porter@rutlandherald.com.

— Louis Porter
Rutland Herald


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