Common Standards Likely to Bring About Changes in Tests
Washington – Twenty-eight states required high school exit exams in the 2009-10 school year and public schools in those states enroll 83 percent of the nation’s students of color and more than three-quarters of the country’s low-income pupils, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) said in a new report released Tuesday. The high participation rate by students of color and low-income students is noteworthy because research concludes that high school exit exams may have a negative impact on these student populations, though the report notes that direct relationships between exit exams and high school completion are hard to make and more research is needed. State High School Tests: Exit Exams and Other Assessments, CEP’s ninth annual report on state high school exit exams, focuses on the impact of exit exams across the nation as well as on new developments in exit exam policies since CEP’s 2009 report. For the first time, this year’s report also includes information about graduation requirements in states that do not require exit exams. “States continue to use high school exit exams as a policy lever for school reform,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO, “But until states can provide more reliable and consistent longitudinal data researchers will continue to struggle with identifying how exit exams impact student achievement and high school completion rates.” With the addition of Oregon and Rhode Island, 28 states had exit exam policies in the 2009-10 school year. Of those 28 states, 25 withheld high school diplomas based on the exams. Three states – Oklahoma, Oregon, and Rhode Island – required the exams but have not yet begun withholding diplomas. In addition, North Carolina and Tennessee have significantly altered their exit exam requirements beginning with the graduating classes of 2011 and 2012, respectively. In the 2009-10 school year, states with high school exit exams enrolled 74 percent of the nation’s students and 83 percent of students of color. Additionally, 78 percent of the nation’s low-income students and 84 percent of students who are English language learners attended public schools in states with exit exams. “Exit exams are most likely in states that are not happy with the quality of education and student outcomes, especially for students of color,” Mr. Jennings. “Policymakers still feel these tests can make a difference.” The research also found several new developments. First, there is a trend toward greater use of end-of-course exams that assess subject-level mastery rather than longer multi-subject comprehensive exams. The number of states requiring end-of-course exams to earn a diploma has increased to seven states and an additional 10 states plan to use them. In 2002, CEP reported that only two states – New York and Texas – administered end-of-course exams. In total, 23 states currently administer or plan to administer end-of-course exams, but not all use them as exit exams. “States may not set minimum performance standards for these requirements, but they still may impact high school achievement,” Mr. Jennings said. CEP’s report also finds that significant changes may lie just around the corner as states move toward full adoption of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math. According the report, 23 of the 28 states with exit exams have adopted or are in the process of adopting the common standards, and at least 13 of those 28 states told CEP that their exit exams would either be realigned to the new standards or replaced by new assessments aligned to the new standards. “A number of questions remain, however, that will determine the extent to which state high school policies will change and whether or not these changes will bring about long-term advantages for students,” Mr. Jennings said.
Across the country, exit exam programs are being affected by tighter budgets. Seven states told CEP that state and local funding pressures had impacted how funds are allocated and spent on programs for high school exit exams. In four states – Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, and South Carolina – programs associated with high school exit exams that were affected by budget actions included remediation services, student scholarships, and extending testing to additional subjects. “These reductions could further affect students who are at the greatest risk of being impacted by exit exams by reducing the amount of help that is available to them,” Mr. Jennings said.
Trends that were identified in states both with and without exit exams include movement toward policies that require students to take college entrance exams. At least eight states require students to take the ACT, SAT, or Work keys college entrance exams, the report finds. Other states are using or considering adopting portfolio-based assessments or senior projects as part of the state high school testing system.
The report includes profiles for the 28 states with exit exams and is available for free at www.cep-dc.org.