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Grading The Test: Should The State Do Away With Proficiency Exams?


Pedro Martinez, Superintendent, Washoe County School District

BY AMY KINGSLEY -- Pedro Martinez, Superintendent of Washoe County, has a problem with the proficiency tests: They don’t measure whether students are ready for career or college.

Many students who pass the tests end up requiring remediation in college.

Many of the students who flunk the test do just fine in their classes. But they may encounter material on the test that they haven’t learned in class, because administrators and teachers have no idea what will be on it.

Martinez wants the state to scrap proficiency tests and replace them with final exams in 9th and 10th grade that students must pass to graduate, along with a college entrance exam in 11th grade to measure college readiness.

Students who flunk those finals in 9th and 10th grade will have to repeat the class and the exam until they pass, so they have a stronger incentive to pass the first time. Those final exams will cover material that has been taught in class.

Support comes from

“We’ll know the children are going to take the exam seriously if they have to pass it to pass the class,” Martinez says.

“The way it works with the current system, our children take the assessment in 10th grade. They fail them. They go to 11th grade. They fail them. They go to 12th grade,” Martinez says. “And so what’s happening right now is that our districts are becoming very good at making sure these kids pass these tests by 12th grade.”

Schools will use the ACT or SAT to measure how ready students are for college. But those tests won’t count toward graduation.

“Because they are not tied to graduation, it’s an honest look at where the students are at,” Martinez says.

The tests are not designed as a high school exit exam, Martinez says, but they can be a useful tool to show where students need to improve.

“But the problem is that I know that our children are graduating from school, and they may not be prepared for college. And I’d rather have the ACT or SAT in 11th grade that gives me that information and we can use it in 12th grade and give them what they need before they leave our high schools.”

Several states require high school students to take the ACT, regardless of whether they plan to attend college. They include Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee and Wyoming.