Report Finds States Tightening College Readiness Metrics

The 11th annual report on the adoption of high school exit exams conducted by the Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University, finds that out of 26 states that make exit exams mandatory for high school students, 8 have already taken steps to align them with the Common Core State Standards to be adopted by most states within the next several years.. In addition, ten other states have announced plans to make a similar change to their tests in the coming year.

This finding backs up the conclusion of the State High School Exit Exams: A Policy in Transition that states are making strides in tightening the metrics used to judge a student’s preparedness for college-level academic work.

“CEP has been studying high school exit exams for 11 years and this year’s report shows that the national move towards more rigorous college and career ready standards has definitely placed these exams at a crossroads,” said Maria Ferguson, CEP’s executive director. “While exit exams remain an influential force in education, state policies will likely continue to evolve as both schools and students adjust to more rigorous standards.”

Making the standards more rigorous will almost certainly create more volatility in passing rates among the states. The author of the report also speculates that the changes will widen the exam performance gap between minority and low-income students and their white middle- and higher-income peers. The same will apply in the cases of children with disabilities and those learning English as a second language.

Shelby McIntosh, who authored the paper for CEP, says that the chances are good that as more states adopt the CCSS or similar standards, more students will fail –  unless states take immediate steps to make sure that new material covered by the exam is likewise taught in schools. McIntosh points out that attaching such high stakes to the test without providing appropriate preparation would do a disservice to students whose futures could be greatly affected by the exam results.

At the moment this concern is minimal since the report finds that currently few colleges and universities base admissions or even scholarship decisions on the exam scores. Yet even now, 25 states already require a passing grade on a high school exit exam for a student to receive a diploma, and at least one other is considering a similar move.

Twenty-two of these exit exam states have adopted the CCSS in English language arts and math. But the move to the types of college- and career-readiness standards embodied by the CCSS does not mean an end to exit exams, according to CEP’s research. At least 14 CCSS-adopting states intend to maintain a requirement for high school students to pass an exam to graduate.