Right from the Start Helping Students Pass the HSEE: Students Who Fail to Pass the High School Exit Exam the First Time May Be at Risk of Dropping out. New Approaches to Data Analysis, Now Being Used in the Private Sector, Offer a More Scientific Method of Targeting Students for Early Intervention

By Morse, Phil | Leadership, November-December 2001 | Go to article overview

Right from the Start Helping Students Pass the HSEE: Students Who Fail to Pass the High School Exit Exam the First Time May Be at Risk of Dropping out. New Approaches to Data Analysis, Now Being Used in the Private Sector, Offer a More Scientific Method of Targeting Students for Early Intervention


Morse, Phil, Leadership


One of the facts of life for California public schools is the impending implementation of the High School Exit Examination. In spring 2001, many California public school ninth-grade students participated in the first administration of the California HSEE. Starting with this cohort of students, only those who receive a passing score on both the English/language arts and mathematics components will receive a high school diploma.

These students, and all those who follow, will have an opportunity in spring of their 10th-grade year, and at least three opportunities per year during the 11th and 12th grades, to pass the test. This is a fundamental change in the demands placed upon the public schools, because producing students who finish high school without a diploma is like General Motors producing cars that can't be driven. The public will be monitoring the pass rates of the schools and making judgments about the quality of public education based on these results.

Students will be making their own long-range plans based upon their success with this test. If they experience failure the first time they take the exam, and if they feel that they are unlikely to pass by the 12th grade, it may be their rational assessment that further time in high school is wasted time. It is not a stretch to predict that the High School Exit Exam will have a significant negative impact on the state's dropout rate.

As school districts grapple with the changes that are being put in place because of this exam, their best strategy may be to try to maximize the number of students who pass the exam the first time that they take it. If schools can increase the number passing initially, they can decrease the number of students who are likely to drop out.

Under California statutes, schools are required to offer and document remediation that will help students to pass the HSEE. In fact, high schools will be expected to make sure that students who have not passed the exam are enrolled in remedial classes and given additional opportunities to take the test.

The law requires that all California public high school students must be given at least four opportunities to take the exam before the end of 12th grade. By maximizing the number of students who pass the exam the first time, the school's resources will be freed to concentrate on those who have not yet achieved a passing score.

Most districts will probably try to identify students in the sixth - ninth grade who are least likely to pass the HSEE in order to target instruction and increase the initial pass rate. Over the years, districts have identified students who are "at risk" of academic failure in order to marshal their resources to improve student performance. The methods used for doing so have usually been simplistic.

Some districts identify at-risk students simply by listing all those who score below a certain score on a standardized or other test. Others may include, along with low standardized test scores, characteristics such as course-taking patterns (students in remedial classes), those who were not successful in algebra, low grades or absenteeism to choose students for early intervention. However, there is a better, more scientific method for choosing students to target.

Data mining

Decision tree analysis, a "data mining" process, is a method that offers great promise in education. Data mining methods are being used widely in private industry, but have yet to make their way into education. They are new approaches to data analysis that have only been made possible over the last decade because of the increased speed and power of computers, and the quantity and breadth of data that are stored in computer systems.

In traditional educational research, the investigator begins with a hypothesis, develops an experiment, and finds evidence to support or reject the hypothesis. In data mining, the researcher begins with the data, and looks for patterns that will lead to a conclusion. …

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Right from the Start Helping Students Pass the HSEE: Students Who Fail to Pass the High School Exit Exam the First Time May Be at Risk of Dropping out. New Approaches to Data Analysis, Now Being Used in the Private Sector, Offer a More Scientific Method of Targeting Students for Early Intervention
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