Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Test, No College Degree Fed Up with Weak Student Skills, Massachusetts Pushes Entrance, Exit Tests at Four-Year State Colleges

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

No Test, No College Degree Fed Up with Weak Student Skills, Massachusetts Pushes Entrance, Exit Tests at Four-Year State Colleges

Article excerpt

If Joe Mara had studied harder in high school, a lot harder, he thinks he might have been admitted to an Ivy League school. But he floated along, and now he's a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

"I was a slacker back then," admits the criminal-justice major. "I did as little as I could - just enough to get by."

Fortunately, he says, this state university campus, with its lobster-boat vistas of Boston Harbor, was one place he could be admitted without being hassled over grades. He's studying hard now, he adds.

But there is trouble afoot for would-be freshmen with Mr. Mara's formerly complacent outlook. Massachusetts last week took the national lead in mandating entrance tests for applicants in the fall of 1999 and exit tests for graduates of its public colleges and universities.

The goal is to ensure that applicants to state schools meet minimum standards for reading, writing, and math - and that college graduates meet certain levels before getting a diploma. Officials also hope testing will help raise academic achievement at public colleges, shift remedial classes to community colleges, and make high schools more accountable.

"There is a move by states to say, 'Look, we don't want to put students in college that need remediation - we want the high schools to do it,' " says Chris Pipho, director of state relations at the Education Commission of the States in Boulder, Colo.

Indeed, Massachusetts is hardly alone in its concern. Many states, including Massachusetts, already use SAT or ACT scores, along with grades and placement tests, to determine whether remedial help is required. But few, if any, use the results to restrict admission or require an exit test for all their four-year schools.

Beside Massachusetts, only Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and Texas include any testing of basic competency for college-level students beyond placement tests, officials say.

Both Oklahoma and Florida test applicants to state schools. Florida also tests about 40 percent of juniors to ensure minimum competency. Others are excused if they achieve minimum grades in selected courses. Oklahoma requires exit testing, although the test is determined by each institution. Neither Oklahoma nor Florida has a common state-wide exit test for would-be graduates, as Massachusetts has proposed.

The backdrop for the Massachusetts effort is political furor over the 30 percent of incoming freshmen who do not have adequate reading, writing, or math skills to do college work. The number of freshmen at four-year colleges who may take remedial classes has been capped at 10 percent, dropping to 5 percent next year. …

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