Reports Question Validity, Purpose of Exit Exams

A new report entitled “The Case Against Exit Exams” suggests that the tests should be re-purposed to serve aids to prepare high school seniors for either college or the workforce, not used as a final hurdle for students to graduate.

This is what Ann Hyslop, author of the report, contends.  She  says that the transition to college and the career-ready standards across the nation are offering states the opportunity to ensure that students not only graduate from high school, but do so ready to succeed in college and in the workforce.

Questions Hyslop believe must be answered by year-end tests, which she said should not be exit exams, include:

- Are individual students making progress?

- Are families aware of whether or not their children are are on track for college and career readiness?

- Are students going to need remediation before starting college-level classes?

According to the report, in the last 40 years, exit exams have failed to raise graduation rates; improve student achievement; determine workforce or post-secondary attainment or make low-income or minority students less vulnerable.

The college and career-ready tests aim at determining who is ready for college.  But, when used as exit exams, they could also determine who is able to go to college by earning a diploma.

For many, the biggest issue is tying four years of high school into one arbitrary test as the means to determine who goes on to receive a diploma. The Center on Education Policy (CEP) authored a report entitled “States Try Harder, but Gaps Persist” about exit exams, showing that the gap between white students and minorities in passing the exam is consistently between 20-30%; and that low-income and disabled students have a hard time passing them.

That leaves states with the decision to using exit exams to hold students accountable for meeting higher standards, or setting a “cut” score on the exams that is not rigorous so that almost every student could graduate.

Tying the exam score to graduation, then, dilutes the ability of the exam to measure the college and career-ready benchmarks. Twenty-four states had exit exams in place last year.

The establishment of two cut scores; one for graduation, one higher for readiness will be implemented by some states as two new consortia are forming.

The consortia are:

Exit Exam states planning to use PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests: Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington

Exit Exam states planning to use unique state tests: California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia

According to the report, more than 70% of states which have adopted the Common Core standards and have exit exams plan to replace the exit exams with a consortia-designed assessment in English Language Arts and math.

Still, there are other strategies which could eliminate exit exams entirely, which can be found in the paper.  The New America Foundation shares these examples:

“For example, states should consider using standardized tests toward final course grades, or placing positive, rather than punitive, stakes on the results, such as automatic placement into credit-bearing courses at public colleges and universities. These policies avoid the costs of exit exams, like higher dropout rates for vulnerable students, without giving up on their benefits, including setting clear standards for high school learning, motivating students to reach higher standards, and providing a clear signal to employers and colleges that graduates possess valuable skills.”