Founder's letter
Published in the Daily Press March 18, 2005

Exit exams no place for timed essays

California's 1999 state education reform package includes long overdue high school exit exams, but the testing has been delayed by those who have put selfish interests first, robbing students of their education.

I support the practice of high school graduation exams and the suggestion to combine those exams with college admissions tests. Focus the attention of students where it belongs, on core proficiencies.

As an author and former college instructor, I learned that preparing tests is the most difficult part of teaching, particularly when tests are supposed to be valid, reliable and designed to measure what is expected. I agree with the effort to improve the new SAT college admission test in the areas of math and reading and writing.

However, I disagree with the timed essay test. Replacing stupid word analogy questions with timed, handwritten essay tests is replacing one bad idea with another, wherein objective results are immeasurable, unreliable and invalid under the unrelenting pressure of testing conditions. Certainly, giving students 25 or even 50 minutes to read and digest the topic, organize their thoughts, and then write a persuasive essay cannot measure written communication skills, especially in this age of word processors.

Clearly, the need to improve students' writing skills is important to their future. However, writing skills can only be measured when students are given competent instruction and the time they need to compose writing at their own speed, which will naturally improve the more they write. Evaluating writing skills written under the pressure of testing is meaningless.