Debra J. Saunders

In California, the high school exit exam -- which members of the class of 2006 had to pass in order to graduate -- should push up the number of graduates who perform at or above basic levels. (Note that the NAEP report was a national test conducted in 2005.)

At last, the focus is on individual student achievement. The exit exam is not my idea of challenging -- to graduate from high school, students have to answer 55 percent of eighth-grade level math questions and 60 percent of 10th-grade level English language arts correctly. But the test, at least, has forced some students to learn skills they will need as adults.

About 300,000 (out of close to 440,000) high school freshmen from the class of 2006 passed the exit exam on their first try. Another 100,000 students had to take the English or math or both portions as many as six times until they passed. Because state schools chief Jack O'Connell fought off legal challenges to keep a passing score on the exit exam from being a graduation requirement, those students know they earned their diplomas.

For a writer, the saddest statistic is the decline in student scores for "reading for literary experience" -- from 290 (out of 500) in 1992 to 279 in 2005. "I don't find that surprising, considering the things that young people are bombarded with," Gordon noted. "It's tough to get kids interested in reading."

He's right. Kids are so wired today -- to television, the Internet and videogames -- it's amazing that they have an attention span at all. But that doesn't mean the schools can give up on them. As Lanich put it, "Kids don't have a shelf life, and they need help today."

Debra J. Saunders

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