The idea of high school exit exams is being seriously bandied about in Pennsylvania. It would require students to pass tests before they graduate.

We like the idea. The last thing we want is for our young people to be passed along from grade to grade and then graduate totally unprepared for a higher education or for the work force.

Unfortunately, too many students are awarded diplomas even though their math and reading skills are not what they should be.

This is not what an American education is or should be about.

“I think it’s a real disservice to graduate a student who’s fundamentally not at the standard level,” said Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak in an interview last week with The Associated Press.

We wholeheartedly agree with the former Greater Johnstown schools superintendent.

But rather than just penalizing the student by not giving him or her a diploma, we think the real onus has to be put on the school districts. Enough testing is already in place in lower grades to give schools a barometer on a student’s progress. There is no excuse for a student reaching graduation day ill-prepared for the world outside.

Our suggestion: Punish schools that allow students to graduate even though they haven’t met the requirements. Hit them in their wallets by withholding state funding. It won’t take long for the taxpayers to demand change. Too much money already is being thrown at education to not expect the highest of standards and the best results.

Zahorchak noted that when he was Johnstown’s superintendent from 1997 to 2003, high school students had to pass the 11th-grade PSSA math and reading tests, retake the tests as seniors if they failed, or attend several months of tutoring.

That’s makes sense.

The state requires students to demonstrate proficiency in reading and math before they can graduate, but allows local districts to decide whether that should entail passing the Pennsylvania State System of Assessment math and reading tests or alternative tests in those subjects.

We have long editorialized that what happens in our schools is basically a local matter, not something that should be dictated by state and federal governments.

But if local schools don’t do their jobs, they’re leaving the door open for outside interference.

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