Stakes Rising in High School Exit Exams

By Catherine Gewertz — November 06, 2009 1 min read
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If you like to monitor the high school exit-exam landscape, you have some great reading to curl up with today. (I’m not embarrassed to admit it. I like this stuff.) Yesterday, the Center on Education Policy put out the eighth in an annual series of studies examining the exams that about half the states require students to pass to get a diploma. (Here are all the previous ones. And just for good measure for all you exit-exam nerds, here are some policy briefs they’ve done about this issue as well.)

Okay. So what’s in this most recent report? First, author Ying Zhang found that stakes are rising for the exit exams. Back in 2002, only two states used such tests for accountability under No Child Left Behind; now 24 do so. Since 2002, 16 more states have started withholding diplomas from students who do not pass exit exams.

Also—interestingly but not surprisingly—not all states use the same cut score for passing the test as they do for NCLB. Fourteen states use the same score for those two purposes, but nine use a lower score for NCLB purposes.

The trend toward end-of-course tests continues. States are moving away from comprehensive and minimum-competency exams, which are often pegged to a frighteningly low level, in favor of a battery of subject-specific tests given at the end of each course in that subject. The study found that 15 states plan to be using end-of-course tests as their exit exams by 2015, up from five currently, and two in 2002.

The report also examines what states are doing to create alternate pathways to graduation for students who are unable to pass the exit exams.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.