State High School Exit Exams: A Challenging Year

Center for Education Policy
August 2006

In this, its fifth annual report on state high-school exit exams, the Center for Education Policy delivers no big news but lots of interesting snippets. CEP reached four broad conclusions in this year's study:

  • The number of states adopting new exit exam requirements is leveling off.
  • State-wide controversy about exit exams tends to settle down in the years after diplomas are first withheld.
  • States are generally moving toward greater flexibility in exit exam policies.
  • Most states requiring exit exams provide remediation to those who fail the text, but the states don't always follow through on their promise to pay. Further, funds for remediation diminish in the years after the exam has been put into place.

But the more interesting  information is buried deeper. For example: Of the 25 states requiring or phasing in exit exams, 20 use the tests to fulfill the high school testing requirements of NCLB. But eight of these 20 set even lower scores for awarding diplomas than for determining proficiency under NCLB. (The "Race to the Bottom of the Bottom"?) The study also finds that "having to pass an exit exam to graduate is just one of many factors that influence a student's decision to drop out, and does not seem to be one of the most significant factors." There are many more such tidbits. A most useful part of the report is the section profiling state exit exam systems. This synopsis provides a good baseline for knowing what the current pass rates are for each state's exam, the types of test being given (standards-based, competency, end-of-course), the years first administered, subjects tested, alternate paths to graduation offered, to name but a few categories. For those who follow the exit-exam debate, it's required reading. For others interested in education, it's an essential reference tool. Find it here.

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