Exit exams get a failing grade

Fill in the right circles and you may be allowed to exit high school.

Last week, the Center for Education Policy, a subsidiary of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., released its latest study on high school exit exams. To put the findings bluntly, the tests are getting harder.

A total of 25 states currently require seniors to pass a comprehensive exit exam before graduation. Of those, eight say their tests align with the Common Core State Standards, a higher exit exam level than any state has enacted previously. (The CCSS is a set of college-ready testing benchmarks, recently developed in part by the National Governors Association.) Ten more states say they plan to base their tests on the CCSS in the near future.

But, after more than a decade of studying exit exams, the Center for Education Policy still can’t say whether they actually help students become better prepared for college.

“It’s a huge question mark at this point,” says Shelby McIntosh, who led the study for the CEP. “So, I think it’s important to ask ourselves: What is being sacrificed in order to do this testing? For me, I know this kind of testing is very expensive, so the question isn’t, ‘Are students tested too much?’ A better question is, ‘Are states spending too much money in these areas, when they could be investing in something more beneficial to students?’”

Demographics

The CEP also found that exit exams disproportionately affect low-income students.
   
“These policies tend to be more common in states that have higher populations of students that historically struggle more in school. About seven in 10 students, nationally, are impacted by exit exams. But it’s more like 83 percent for English language learners,” says McIntosh. “States have historically struggled to find the extra support that those students need. So, going forward, if the bar is raised even further, what kinds of support do states have planned?”



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