Grading the Use of Graduation Exams This week, high school seniors in California got a last chance to pass that state's first graduation test. By one estimate, at least 40,000 are expected to fail. More and more states require a high school exit exam. Guests examine whether these tests make the grade.
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Grading the Use of Graduation Exams

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Grading the Use of Graduation Exams

Grading the Use of Graduation Exams

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From NPR News in Washington, D.C., I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION. Like many other states, California now requires high school seniors to pass an exam to get a diploma. Richard Williams, Jr., an 18-year-old at Oakland's Far West High School, failed the math portion of the test four times.

Mr. RICHARD WILLIAMS, JR (Student of Oakland Far West High School): Oh, man. How can they, like, jeopardize us actually getting a diploma because of this one test? I mean, honestly, I don't want to go through life saying, I could have been somebody. I actually want to be somebody right now.

CONAN: Critics say they're unfair. Proponents say they give a diploma real meaning. High school graduation exams, plus our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, joins us on the president's political capital, the Illinois primary, and a moderate Republican retires. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, after the news.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. This year, California requires high school seniors to pass an exit exam before they get a diploma. And this week is the last chance to take that test if they hope to graduate with the rest of the class of 2006 this June. There was plenty of debate in the run-up to the decision to make the exam mandatory in California, a debate that's played out across much of the country. Nearly half the states have exit exams now, which usually focus on math and writing skills. Proponents argue that a high school diploma ought to be more than a certificate of attendance, and that higher standards will force both students and schools to do better. Critics charge that it isn't fair to measure an education on the basis of a single test, especially one they say penalizes minorities and students with special needs. Exit exams have been around for years now, and there's still argument about whether they do what they're intended to do.

Later in the program our weekly visit with Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, on the President's political capital, primary elections in Illinois, and we'll talk with New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert about this decision to retire from Congress. If you have questions for the Political Junkie you can email us now, But first, high school exit exams. If you're a student, parent, or school official in a state with an exit exam, call and tell us if it helps or hurts. If your state doesn't require these tests, do you think they should? Our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. The email address is story in California. She's with us from NPR's office in San Francisco. Nice to have you on the program, Elaine.

ELAIN KORRY, reporting:

Good morning Neal.

CONAN: So, is this exit exam causing some anxiety there?

KORRY: It certainly for an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 high school seniors who are taking it these past two days. It's a seven-hour test that's spread over two days, and it's, as you said, it's a last chance for these kids to pass if they want to graduate with the class of '06.

CONAN: What happens if they don't pass?

KORRY: Well, the superintendent of Public Instruction has laid out a couple of alternatives, none of them too palatable for these kids. They can either take the test again over the summer, and if they pass they can get their diploma before September. Or they can repeat a year of high school, something none of them were looking forward to. Or, in some cases, they can go on and take community college courses, but only while they're continuing to study to pass the test.

CONAN: And, as I understand it, the test was administered, but not required over the past two years. What was the debate like to make it a requirement?

KORRY: Well, I think that the proponents, the opponents of the test have argued that California's education is very, there are some real inequities there. You have a class of students who have gone to the poorest schools, they've had the least experienced teachers. Often they've been taught math by teachers who are uncredentialed. And there's a strong argument made that these kids who have been showing up for four years, passing their courses, to deny them a diploma now in that context is unfair. There was also a lobby on behalf of special education students, and they actually succeeded this year in getting a one-year reprieve for that group of students. They won't be required to pass the exam this year.

CONAN: Now how tough is this test?

KORRY: It's, you know, it's really not that tough. It's been said that it tests ninth or tenth grade English and eighth or ninth grade math, and the threshold for passing it isn't that high. Students only have to get slightly more than half of the questions correct. So, you know, the math portion, which a lot of kids seem to have a lot of trouble with, it's pre-algebra. You know, its things like square roots and those dreaded, if a train leaves Penn Station at 8:00 a.m. kinds of questions. But, it's not that difficult.

CONAN: It sounds a lot more like arithmetic than algebra.

KORRY: Correct. Correct. And in fact, I mean, employer groups and some educators say the test ought to be much more rigorous than it is now.

CONAN: Now, let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email us at And Tasha, Tasha joins us now from Phoenix, Arizona.

TASHA (Caller): Yes, hi. I'm diagnosed a high-functioning autistic, a non-verbal learning disorder. And Arizona has a test called the AIMS, which is now required for graduation. If I tried taking that exam, I would not have passed it, but I have a bachelor's degree and I speak Arabic and a couple of other languages fairly fluently.

CONAN: So you're suggesting that the test is, shouldn't be taken as the sole measurement of one's education.

TASHA: Well, that and, quite frankly, if I couldn't get a high school degree, then I wouldn't have been able to get a college diploma, as well. It would've denied me access to a high-paying job, to future education, and quite a bit of other things, while not even measuring my potential as a worker in the modern environment.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And you've taken your degrees and managed to make a living with them?

TASHA: To a degree, yeah. I'm actually working in special education now. Certain political things have kept me from working in my field of interest, including the fact that, quite frankly, as an autistic, I can't handle politics terribly well, But, oh well.

CONAN: Oh well. Congratulations, Tasha, on your achievements. Thanks very much for your phone call too.

TASHA: Thank you. Have a good day.

CONAN: And Elaine Korry, I assume that people like Tasha were part of the argument that you mentioned in California. The people with special needs saying we ought to put this off for at least a year.

KORRY: Exactly, and they were able to win a one-year reprieve. I think the issues are going to come back next year, however, because, you know, the context hasn't changed dramatically. And one of the things that's controversial in California, is unlike in other states, there's no alternative in California. It's this test. Whereas in other states, if you don't pass the test, perhaps you could complete a special project, or you can figure out some other way to demonstrate that you've mastered the material that you need to know out of high school. But in California, the only way that you can demonstrate that is through this one, standardized test.

CONAN: And I've read some estimates that as many as 40,000 students or so are expected to fail.

KORRY: That's correct. It could be anywhere from ten to fifteen percent of the class of '06. And, you know, unfortunately, they won't know until mere weeks before graduation, because the results from this latest round of tests won't be in until mid to late May.

CONAN: Elaine Korry, thanks very much.

KORRY: You're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: NPR's Elaine Korry joining us from the NPR office in San Francisco. To give you an idea of some of the questions on the California test, we've picked out a few sample questions. One math question. John uses two-thirds of a cup of oats per serving to make oatmeal. How many cups of oats does he need to make six servings? Two and two-thirds? Four? Five and one-third? Nine? It's multiple choice. Here's an English question. The green backpack has blank pockets than the blue one. And the choices are least, less, fewer, and fewest. You're again asked to make multiple choices between those. Proponents of exit exams believe they preserve the value of a diploma. Joining us now is Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. He's with us here in Studio 3-A. Thanks very much for coming in today.

Professor JAY GREENE (senior fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research): Well, thanks for having me on.

CONAN: The concerns we're hearing from California, and really, the whole structure of the debate, that isn't new. It's been around the country for some time now.

Professor GREENE: That's true. More than half of the states now require passage of some sort of test to receive a regular high school diploma, and this movement is spreading because, frankly, employers and institutions of higher learning no longer trust a regular high school diploma, that it represents a set of skills. And so the test has been added as a guarantee that students who graduate also possess the skills that they're supposed to.

CONAN: And, you know, I guess the concern is that it creates winners. People with diplomas have a more meaningful diploma. But it also creates losers.

Mr. GREEN: Well, not very many. Frankly, the number of students who are prevented from graduating solely because they can't pass an exit exam is quite small in most states. Most states who can't pass the exit exams are also unable to complete the other requirements of graduation, like taking a certain number of courses in particular subjects and receiving the appropriate grades.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GREEN: And so to say that this is the one requirement ignores in fact that it's one of many requirements to graduate. Similarly a student who is unable to pass classes in reading or in math and can't receive the appropriate number of credits also cannot graduate. The difference is that we no longer trust, because of severe grade inflation, that the grades in those courses are meaningful, and that passing those courses alone guarantees that students possess skills. So, we've added a test, in many states, to try to improve our confidence in these diplomas.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Suzanne. Suzanne is calling us from Phoenix, Arizona.

SUZANNE (Caller): Hi, yes, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SUZANNE: I teach high school English here in Phoenix, Arizona, and I've seen the test many times and some callers have said that it's too difficult.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SUZANNE: But really it measures a set of basic standards. It's not intense, it's not very difficult. At least in Arizona, the writing portion is generally a five-paragraph essay. And I'm fully in support of it. I think that it's important to keep our standards high. It's important to keep the students and teachers accountable, and it's important that when a kid graduates and has a diploma,that it means something.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SUZANNE: So at least out here in Arizona, I can speak for some teachers and it's not a very popular viewpoint, because we have a lot of English-language learners, and that's a difficult problem to overcome. But I would say that if a student can't necessarily pass the test, then maybe their skills should be reassessed. I do think a diploma should mean something.

CONAN: Suzanne, it sounds like what you're saying is if they can't pass the writing portion, at least of the test there in Arizona, they might not have been able, shouldn't, maybe graduated from tenth grade much less twelfth.

SUZANNE: Well, exactly. And the previous person was talking about grade inflation on, and all those various pressure on grades, and that is the case. Many times students can make it through high school without mastering the concepts they really should have mastered due to a variety of pressures. And so I do think the test is a good measure. And it's important to keep it in place. And also if I can add, it's important not to water it down with a lot of exceptions. If you give every other student an out because of some, you know...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

SUZANNE: ...some exception that they have, it reduces the meaning of the overall exam. And it then, it kind of looses the point.

CONAN: I wonder though have you had kids who were either bad testers or kids you thought were promising but for one reason or another didn't pass this exam and wondered what happened to them?

SUZANNE: Well, it's a problem we're just starting to face right now in Phoenix, or in Arizona in general, because the test is a new test. And our graduating class of this year is the first one that is going to have to pass it to...


SUZANNE: ...receive their diploma. So, it's a problem we have not overcome yet. But students do receive, I believe, five or six opportunities to take and retake the test between the time they first take it as sophomores and the time that they would graduate as seniors.

CONAN: Suzanne, thanks very much for the call we appreciate it.

SUZANNE: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: We're talking today about high school exit exams and we'll come back from the break and take more of your calls. Our number, if you'd like to join the conversation, is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. You can also send us questions by e-mail at TALK@NPR.ORG. We'll be joined by Monty Neil of the Center for Fair and Open Testing when we return. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In Ohio, it's called The Graduation Test. In California, it's the High School Exit Exam. In Massachusetts, it's the Comprehensive Assessment System. More and more states are requiring high school students to pass a special test before awarding them a high school diploma. Today we're talking about the merits of such tests. Our guest is Jay Green, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Of course, you're invited to join us. Our number is 800-989-8255 and our e-mail address is Let's get quickly to another caller. This is Elizabeth, Elizabeth calling, another caller from Phoenix, Arizona.

ELIZABETH (Caller): Yeah, I am calling from Phoenix. The AIMS test is, I just can't stand the thing. I have four kids in the public school system, actually two still in, one at the University of Arizona right now. And these kids start taking this test in the third grade. They take the test in other grades all the way up and the amount of time my children spend taking AIMS tests is ridiculous. It's changed the curriculum in their classrooms. I also run a mentoring program for low-income students from fifth through 12th grade. I see it across the board. And honestly, I don't like the change it's made. I loved the school my older kids went through in elementary and junior high, and I do not like the curriculum I'm seeing my youngest daughter participating in as an eighth grader, and my eleventh grade daughter is in the high end International Baccalaureate program, can't stand the AIMS test either.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: It doesn't measure her knowledge. She's quite successful as a student. And she, you know has passed her AIMS and now she spends, you know, a few days off of school for, what two weeks of a year, or three weeks of the year, while other kids repeatedly take their AIMS test to try to pass the thing.

CONAN: So, she's effectively not being taught you said. While other kids are being taught the test.

ELISABETH: Yes. Exactly.

CONAN: All right, Elizabeth, thanks very much.


CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. Let's introduce now Monty Neil, who's with us also here in studio 3A. He's the executive director of Fair Test, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. MONTY NEIL (Executive Director of Fair Test, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Cambridge, Massachusetts): Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: So, what's wrong with exiting exams?

Mr. NEIL: There are several major flaws with the whole approach to exit exams. They are too narrow instruments and often flawed for the basis of high stakes decisions like whether a students graduates. Students are not being given learning opportunities and then held accountable for results. The California situation is we have terrible schools in places where the state and district has fundamentally under funded those schools. The kids have not learned the things indeed they ought to learn, but now they're the ones that take the heat for it and get punished. And we should in fact build a system of supporting the students first, before any particular specific outcomes like this. But those specific outcomes should be evaluated using multiple measures not one just one test.

CONAN: And...

Mr. NEIL: And the other big problem is what your last caller talked about, which is we are turning, instead of educating the whole child to be active participants in a democracy, we're turning many of our schools into test prep programs. And those tests aren't good enough to bear the weight of controlling curriculum and instruction. So, we are actually endangering instead of improving the quality of many of our schools around the country. We have not got a careful strategy to improve the schools that really need improvement. And then we're putting accountabilities substantially on the backs of the children. It's a deeply irrational system.

CONAN: But if the choice is some standards or no standards?

Mr. NEIL: One can implement standards on schools and begin to go in and say, what you need to make sure that from the start on the kids are progressing at a good rate? Put in the support systems to help the kids who are not progressing so that when they get to high school and along the way, they've made reasonable and good progress...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEIL: ...and then you use a multiple set of indicators to make a decision about whether that kids has made sufficient progress. We're not saying to kids where the most essential piece of paper in many ways, aside perhaps from citizenship that you can actually have in this country, is a high school diploma. And we're saying to kids, we didn't fund you adequately, we didn't give you the support, you went and did your up end of the bargain, tough luck, we're pulling the diploma away from you. That's not either a necessary or a fair way to go about improving the schools. It is better to be a kid who lacks skills and has a diploma than to be a kid who lacks skills and doesn't have a diploma. That's not a good situation. But instead of putting it on the kids to solve that equation, let's put it on the system to solve that equation, and then hold the kids fairly accountable.

CONAN: Jay Green, I see you shaking your head.

Mr. GREEN: Well, I think this is the Wizard of Oz approach to high school education. The idea that if we give the kids a piece of paper that they become more skilled, like the scarecrow. But it doesn't work that way in life. The way it actually works in life is that people with skills are more successful than people without. And so what we're trying to do in education is to improve people's skills. And unless we measure those skills in some rigorous way, objective way...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GREEN: ...and unless we attach consequences to possessing those skills or not possessing those skills, we won't get people to meet those standards. And the idea of multiple measures just gets us back into the realm of, that we were in before.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GREEN: We're by the way, from many kids, for half of our kid's nation wide who are African American or Hispanic, they're not graduating high school. So the situation may be fine from some high-end kids, but for a lot of kids our high schools are failing, and the only way we can get them to improve is by measuring results and attaching consequences to those results.

CONAN: But what about what Monty Neil said, why should kids, students be, have to pay for lousy schools?

Mr. GREEN: Well, the kids also benefit when they pass. So in particular when it comes to African-American and Hispanic students who currently graduate high school, employers currently do not pay them more than the students who do not graduate high school who are African American and Hispanic, except in exit exam states. Employers will pay a high school graduate more than a non high school graduate who is African American or Hispanic. In other words, the employers won't reward the high school diploma unless there is an exit exam guaranteeing that it actually means something.

CONAN: All right, let's get some more listeners on the line. This is Jade(ph); Jade is calling us from Little Rock, Arkansas.

JADE (Caller): Yes, I am currently a recent graduate. I graduated in 2004 and I had to take the exit exam in Dothan, Alabama. My comment is that I think that it is a wonderful idea. I graduated and I did pass the exam. They gave me enough fair opportunities to take it and then also helped me to succeed so that I can pass it by the time I graduated. There were high school students that I went to school with that did not know how to read correctly. They were a senior, 17 years old. I think that it is very important that they require this exit exam in all states. Of course, they need to have some type of fair program where they can actually help them study, whether it be after school, or in class, for the exit exam, before they have to take it though.

CONAN: It sounds to me like you've got a measure of real pride from passing this test and from getting that diploma.

JADE: I really do, and I have really excelled. I have skills and I'm very, very proud of the fact that I, you know, that I'm at a nice high level of my education. Now I'm in college and I'm still doing well. But I feel for my fellow students, my peers, that did not graduate, but they didn't take the time or effort. There was teachers passing them that knew that they could not read.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JADE: And they didn't help them. And I think that it just shows the lack of opportunity that the students had, but also, at the same, time digging to the root of the problem. They're saying that these students all need to graduate and then you know, employers don't trust those degrees.

CONAN: Jade, thanks very much for the call and continued good luck to you, congratulations.

JADE: Thank you.

CONAN: All right, bye-bye. Monty Neil, she puts the case very well. She passed, she's now doing well, but she does say that some people were left behind.

Mr. NEIL: We know kids in Massachusetts who tried really hard, many of them were special needs kids, who didn't get a diploma, simply because of the test. They might have had an older sibling with a similar problem who is now in college. Yet, the kid who doesn't pass the test doesn't go to college. There is, there's a set of issues here obviously that are complex to disentangle here. One is how do you improve schools? I would argue that the preponderance of evidence is now come out from research that shows that you don't really improve schools by focusing on standardized tests. What you do is you boost the test scores on the test that you teach to, but when you use independent measures, you don't find the results. Texas has been, for example, a serious indicator of that. According to the TAS test, the gap got closed between blacks and Latinos on one side, and whites on the other side. But when you look at the new test it put in and the NAPE(ph) test, you find out that wasn't true, in fact the gap had gotten wider and the Texas Higher Ed authorities said they had more need for remediation not less. This is after the high school exit exam went in.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GREEN: There are other ways to go about improving schools. You know, congratulations to this young woman for getting her diploma. And indeed, we have a problem where schools are often letting kids slide. What we are arguing for is, let's get the kinds of evidence out of the schools to make sure the schools are not letting them slide. But let's also get the evidence to make sure that the schools have themselves what they need to work with all the kids. What the California law suit showed that was the basis of part of our discussion is that there are horrendous inequities and kids are not being taught what they need. Again, a child who gets that diploma is better off, all else equal, than without it. And you know with all due respect to Jay, the evidence I've seen is generally having that diploma is a critical difference for your life chances and your income.

CONAN: Well, let's give Jay a chance to respond. And he's right, there have been some analyses that do show that the standardized test results are illusory.

Mr. GREENE: Well, actually we have a study that's in, just posted on Teacher College Record where we compare the results of high and low-stakes tests that were given to nine percent of all public school students nationwide and no one has an incentive to teach to, cheat on or otherwise manipulate the low-stakes tests. These are things like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Stanford Nine that were given at the same time to the same kids. As it turns out the results of those two tests correlate really well. And so whatever teaching to is occurring with high-stakes tests, is good. Basically what's happening is it's guiding our teachers, our school system, telling them what it is that we want them to cover. So, rather than teachers covering whatever they may happen to like, which may or may not be the skills that our students need to succeed in life, what the test is helping do is informing school systems about what it is they need to cover and when schools are teaching to those tests, they're actually teaching skills that students need.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail question, this from Andy. Good afternoon, if the student should fail this test, wouldn't that trigger a higher dropout rate among students?

Mr. NEILL: Well, the data is, Jay is right, the great majority of the kids who fail these tests are not doing well in school to start with, but there is a slice of students for whom it is clear it has propelled them, the failure on the test seems to have propelled them to drop out. There's also some evidence that we gathered in Massachusetts that the dropouts are leaving earlier and they're partly also dropping out because the grade retention is going up, and grade retention is a very powerful predictor of increased likelihood of dropping out. So, there is some effect. Now, it's interesting that in this debate you have both the argument that we need higher level tests and because their low level people aren't dropping out, I think the clear implication is that if the level on those tests gets more difficult, you'll have fewer people passing them and a greater dropout, at least in the short run. But I really have to add one other thing. These tests, go look at them. The Massachusetts test, the Texas test, and some others, they're on web sites, you can publicly look at them. All states should put them out there, they don't. Go look at them. They are simply not a serious measure of what our kids actually need to learn and be able to do. I've taken them, I've looked at them. Independent panels in Massachusetts and New York have looked at them, they really aren't very good tests, and they certainly don't meet what our kids need to know to succeed in college. Now if we want to improve the quality we have to go improve the quality of the actual teaching and learning, use better measures, but again, there's no need to make it narrow high stakes.

CONAN: We're talking about exit exams for high school and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line and this is Scott. Scott's calling us from Manheim in Germany.

SCOTT (Caller): Yeah, hi, thanks for taking my call. Yeah, here in Germany, we don't have standardized tests for the whole country, but we have them for each state. And the state I live in, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, for example, you have to be able to recognize three of the Beethoven symphonies in order to pass the high school test. So, I would be curious to see what your panel thinks of that, and what do people really need to know?

CONAN: And what do people really need to know? That's, I'm not sure that I could pass the Beethoven symphony test, but if it's Gershwin I might do better. But, Jay Greene, what do people really need to know?

Mr. GREENE: Well, this is why we have 50 different states, and different countries have different tests. And so, each state gets to decide for itself what it thinks its students need to know.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GREENE: And frankly, in Germany perhaps it's quite important to know how to recognize certain symphonies, and so we allow that kind of flexibility by having a lot of different tests based on each community's particular needs. But I think that, again, one thing that I want to respond to that Monty was saying earlier is that we're not sufficiently giving resources to schools and how can we hold them accountable if we're not given them sufficient resources. It's important to point out that we have actually doubled per pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, over the last 30 years, so we're now spending more than $10,000 per pupil. And during this time, test scores have been flat. Graduation rates have been flat. So, we've been trying this tact for a long time and its' now time I think to try something different.

CONAN: All right. Scott, thanks very much. The only thing I can tell you is, da-ta-da-da, that's the Fifth. Appreciate the phone call.

SCOTT: Okay.

CONAN: And let me put this question to you Monty Neill, E-mail question from Ryan Levinson(ph) in San Diego, How do the GED and exit exam compare? If a student can take the GED for an equivalency diploma, can they take the exit exam early to get an actual diploma? Which exam is harder, and if the GED is harder, then how can the difference be reconciled, considering the end result of the student is essentially the same, i.e., completion of high school.

Mr. NEILL: Well, one, the GED, economic reviews show the GED is simply not as valuable as a high school diploma.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NEILL: Exactly why that's the case is a matter of debate, but it seems pretty clear that's now true. The GED was recently made more difficult. As to whether it is more difficult that the high school exit exam, you have to do a state-by-state comparison. It may be more difficult in some and easier in others and I don't think any such study has been done. It's very difficult to do because you can't just simply look at the questions, you'd have to give these different tests to different people.

CONAN: To different groups of people, but...

Mr. NEILL: And probably pay them to spend their time doing it so...

CONAN: Would you say their about the equivalent, Jay?

Mr. GREENE: Yeah, I agree with Monty that I don't think anyone precisely knows and it may be that in some states it's harder and in some states it's easier. The fact that it's not the same difficulty to receive a high school diploma everywhere in the country, and in fact in every school, is okay. Again, it reflects some various in local standards and so I'm not too troubled by the fact that the GED may not be exactly the same as exit exams.

CONAN: And another quick e-mail, this from Shara(ph) in New York. With special needs, learning disabled children is there some discussion of allowing these kids extra time to complete the exam, are the allotted the same amount of time to complete it, and does a student's score appear on his or her permanent school record or is it merely pass/fail? And I guess that would vary from state to state as well.

Mr. NEILL: And there are a lot of requirements under the disability rights laws that students are supposed to be given the kinds of accommodations they get during instruction. In fact, they often are not, and this has led to the basis of several lawsuits. That decision in California your reporter referred to at the beginning of the broadcast, that legislative action was taken in response to a court decision. And, in fact, the people are back in court because they are arguing on several different grounds, the unfairness to the kids and the lack of resources and the lack of accommodations, in some cases, are all issues at play in whether or not to use that test for students in California with disabilities.

CONAN: And I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there, but want to thank our guests. You just heard from Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, and we also had Jay Greene with us, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. They were kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Thank to you both.

Mr. NEILL: Thank you.

Mr. GREENE: Thank you.

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