College & Workforce Readiness

Are End-of-Course Exams an Alternative to Exit Exams? Maybe

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 27, 2019 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Testing students at the end of some high school courses could provide a way to measure student and school progress without reducing graduation rates, according to a new report.

A study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank, suggests states’ use of end-of-course exams has slowed in recent years, but their use in some core classes is linked to higher graduation rates.

Adam Tyner, an associate director for research at Fordham, and Matthew Larsen, an assistant professor of economics at Lafayette College, looked at trends in states using end-of-course exams—both for accountability and otherwise—since 1996. The researchers found their use increased steadily since the 1990s, but began to decline in the wake of a broader movement for less testing. Only a dozen states base graduation on a final exit exam at the end of high school, for example, but more than half of states still include at least one end-of-course exam for student or school accountability:

One reason end-of-course exams might have retained more popularity than exit exams is they have been seen as less of a gatekeeper to students earning a high school diploma. Back in 2017, the U.S. Department of Education found that a majority of the schools studied used the tests as part of their dropout-prevention initiatives, and they were the most common type of “competency based” accountability. Rural and urban schools were more likely than suburban schools to use end-of-course exams, the Education Department found.

Tyner and Larsen found the use of end-of-course tests was associated with slightly better graduation rates:

But the subject seems to make a difference, particularly for black and Hispanic students. The researchers found having an end-of-course exam in English was associated with a slight boost in graduation rates, while a science exam was associated with lower graduation rates for these students.

The study also found end-of-course tests didn’t predict students’ college entrance exam scores, though prior studies have found students’ overall grades—to which end-of-course tests contribute—may be a better predictor of students’ long-term achievement and persistence in college.

“Raising graduation rates remains a key goal for high schools in most states, and when we examine the effects of [end-of-course tests] on these rates, we find no negative effects—and in some cases, positive ones,” the researchers concluded. “In other words, the key argument against exit exams—that they depress graduation rates—does not hold” for end-of-course tests.

Charts Source: Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.
Marchmeena29/iStock/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor How We Can Improve College-Completion Rates
Early- and middle-college high schools have the potential to improve college completion rates, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read