Every year, several seniors awaiting their high school diploma must devote three hours of their summer to prove minimal competence in math and language. However, in light of California’s abominable education system conditions and the shortage of innovators in the state’s workforce, I would argue that three hours is far too little and that the task at hand is far too easy.

Nevertheless, the California High School Exit Exam enhances a student’s ability to survive in the real world. Without the exam, deficient students are granted their diploma and the dangerous misconception that their 12+ years in school has instilled in them the necessary qualities and abilities to succeed.

Yet, the self-esteem oriented California public school system continually threatens to impose further degeneration of these students. Earlier this year, the school system challenged the exit exam in court in an attempt to lower standards and emphasize educational equality – as opposed to actually achieving it. However, making the test easier just allows students to leave high school ill-prepared.

Indeed, the most recent report released from Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that aims at helping states ensure young people’s successful transition to adulthood, finds that both college professors and employers notice a widening ability gap in the skills required of the recent grads and capabilities.

Large percentages of students, employers and college instructors agree that students need more challenging coursework in high school, translating into widespread support for raising standards. All three groups, students, college instructors, and employers, not only favored tightening high school standards, but they also supported requiring that students pass exit exams to graduate. Eighty-one percent of graduates endorsed the idea, as did 79 percent of instructors and 89 percent of employers.

Admittedly, the High School Exit Exam is not without its problems. It is argued that it may be unfair to hold the students accountable for the failures of the education system. This may be true, but then who can be held accountable? This test represents an important first link on the chain of universal accountability throughout California’s K-12 public education system – the teachers must feel accountable to produce students with higher rates of achievement. The school boards must feel accountable to provide teachers with the appropriate tools to accomplish this, and so on.

The exit exam, although a three-hour inconvenience for some, must be the first step to raising standards and thus student achievement. Merit-based teacher salaries could be implemented to reward those teachers who produce significant increases in student passage rates. Inducements could be structured to entice high-performing teachers to teach in those districts in schools that have shown poor CASHEE passage rates.

With greater support from the community, CASHEE’s successful and continued implementation has the potential to reform the K-12 public system from graduation backward and restore California’s place as a national leader in education. Without CASHEE, students may not realize their own ineptitude until later in life, and this kind of failure can be more severe than a poor test score for an exam that can be simply retaken.

Daily Nexus columnist Courtney Stevens believes CASHEE was especially necessary for the high school class of 2006 whose SAT scores were the lowest in 30 years.