South Carolina Considers Dropping High School Exit Exam

It seemed like less than a decade ago that the popularity of high school exit exams was at its peak. Now at least one state believes that they contribute nothing to preparing college-ready high school graduates and only add stress both to the students and their instructors. Representative Phil Owens of South Carolina believes that the message his constituents are sending is that the time has come to drop the state exist exam entirely.

For Owens, this is a personal as well as political issue. One of his sons has a learning disability which makes passing a standardized exam more difficult. He has already failed to pass it three times and is still officially a high school student even though he passed all his classes. Owen, who represents Easley in South Carolina State House, keenly felt his son’s disappointment.

Over the course of his research Owens found that South Carolina wasn’t the first state in the country to either outright drop or at least consider dropping high school exit exam requirements. At least 25 that require exams are planning to replace them in the near future with a test based on the Common Core Curriculum with the view of assessing student knowledge and college readiness. However, no specific grade will need to be earned in order to student to be allowed to graduate.

Among the exit exam policy changes taking place in the states:

• The Nevada legislature passed a bill this year that will phase out its exit exam and replace it with end-of-course tests and college entrance exams that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards that have been adopted in 45 states, according to Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, a Las Vegas Democrat.

• Arizona passed a bill that did away with its exit exam and other national tests and calls for the state Board of Education to develop another test that will better measure critical thinking skills, according to state Rep. Doris Goodale, a Phoenix Republican.

• Alabama is phasing out its exit exam and using tests developed by ACT that measure students’ readiness for college or work, according to state Department of Education spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert.

Georgia is also dropping its end-of-high school exam and replacing it with tests given at the end of each course.

In Florida, Minnesota, Iowa, Mississippi and Texas exit exam legislation is being debated by state lawmakers, indicating that if the idea of a high school exit exam is not ending entirely, it’s likely to be replaced by something different.

Owens’ bill in South Carolina has been passed in the state House and referred to the Senate Education Committee. It calls for setting up a committee to recommend whether to continue using the High School Assessment Program exit exam for federal and state accountability requirements or replace it with something else. But it wouldn’t be required for graduation, regardless. Anna Huguley, a sophomore at J.L. Mann High in Greenville, S.C., says she took the exit exam this year and didn’t find it very hard. Students typically take it in 10th grade and have two more chances before they graduate to pass it.