By Robert Kittle
A bill expected to come up for a vote next week in the South Carolina House would eliminate the requirement that high school students pass an exit exam in order to graduate.
Now, students take the HSAP, or High School Assessment Program, starting in 10th grade. They have to pass it before the end of their senior years to graduate. According to the state Department of Education, 80.1 percent of students passed the exam on their first try last year.
Stacey Craig, a sophomore at Dreher High in Columbia, took the exam last week and says, “It's very simple and it's not anything really hard. Everyone should be able to pass, and if you can't pass, well then you need to stay in school.”
Rep. Phil Owens, R-Easley, chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee, is the main sponsor of the bill. He says four years of high school shouldn't boil down to how someone does on one test.
“They meet all the requirements, earn the Carnegie units, and then all of a sudden they have to take one test that can determine whether or not they receive a diploma,” he says. “That test is not recognized as necessary to further their education, whether it be in the tech school route or the four-year institution route or whatever.”
But even though future students would not have to pass the test to graduate, they would still have to take the test. Jay W. Ragley, spokesman for the state Department of Education, explains, “We're required by both federal and state law to assess the progress of schools and school districts and high schools, and so we have to have an assessment.”
The department is planning to start using a new computer-based test in the 2014-15 school year. The current HSAP costs taxpayers more than $3.6 million to print, administer and score. Ragley says the new test will save at least $400,000 a year.
He says of the current exam, “Unfortunately, it doesn't have a lot of relevance anymore outside of high school. No employer and no college asks, 'What was your score on your high school exit exam?' when you apply for college or apply for a job.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 25 states require high school students to pass an exit exam to graduate. That's down from 28 in 2010. Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee dropped the requirement. Alabama will end its exit exam in 2015.