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Editorial: Graduation tests give N.M. diplomas value

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New Mexico’s eight universities and 17 community college/branch campuses are full of high school graduates taking remedial coursework. But starting with the class of 2014, those numbers should start declining.

That’s because for the first time students will have to prove they are competent in math, reading, writing, science and social studies before they can walk the line and pick up that diploma.

Imagine that — having to show you can actually read and fill out a job application, even make change, before going to college or out into the work-a-day world.

The new system replaces the state’s High School Competency Exam, which from 1986 to 2010 measured eighth-grade skills and sold community colleges, universities, employers and especially students a bill of goods as to their preparedness for the next step in life.

Students in the classes of 2011, ’12 and ’13 had to demonstrate competence by passing their core classes and/or the Standards Based Assessment test.

The class of 2014 will bring more uniformity to the system of high school finals, though students will have a variety of methods to show they are ready to graduate.

They can pass the math, reading and science sections of the SBA their junior year, and end-of-course exams in English and social studies. If they don’t pass all of the SBA, they can take end-of-course exams developed by teachers in the required subjects, including algebra II, geometry, English, social studies, biology and chemistry. School districts can use these final exams or sub in their own, with state approval. Students can also substitute an appropriate Advanced Placement, ACT, SAT or International Baccalaureate test to show competency.

That extensive laundry list amounts to a lot of options, but should not add up to a lot of tests for the prepared student. The easiest path is to simply pass the SBA and your finals and you’re done; the myriad options help those students who may have struggled with one of those tests, had an off day, did well in geometry but never mastered algebra, etc.

And it helps those students who are not ready to graduate — almost half of New Mexico’s student fail to do so — by giving them a year to take summer school, get tutored, and get ready to re-test as seniors.

And that will help not only New Mexico’s students, community colleges and universities, but also its economy in the long run.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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