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Fewer students had to pass exit exams to graduate last year

February 9, 2012

The Center on Educational Policy publishes an annual report on high school exit exams; the report for 2011 was released in mid-December.  The report focuses on the impact of the current emphasis on college and career readiness.  Some highlights:

  • 65% of all high school students were required to pass an exit exam to receive a diploma in the 2010-11 school year, down from the previous year, due to changes in state policies.
  • At least 16 states plan to replace their current exit exams with exams developed as part of one of the Common Core Standards state consortia.
  • Nine states offer or administer one or more ACT assessments; five use the PSAT; two states use state-developed assessments.
  • Within the Midwest, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and (beginning in 2012) Oklahoma require students to pass state-mandated exit exams; Missouri requires students to take the assessment, but may receive a diploma without passing it.
  • In the Midwest, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and North Dakota require students to take a college readiness test, such as the ACT or SAT, while in high school.
  • Some states, including Indiana and Missouri, also require end-of-course exams. States using end-of-course exams typically test in more subjects than states using comprehensive exit exams.
  • Nationwide, students of color and students from low-income families are more likely to be impacted by exit exams.

Readers should note that exit exams are not necessarily the same as state assessments mandated by federal regulation; Texas administers a separate assessment to comply with No Child Left Behind.  This does not include those districts which have received special waivers from state and federal governments to administer their own assessments in place of state NCLB assessments; for example, the McPherson, KS school district uses the ACT in place of the Kansas State Assessment.

Key Questions:

  • What assessments are required by your state?  Must students pass one or more in order to graduate?  How are students prepared for those assessments?  How do those exit exams impact curriculum and school programs?
  • Does the state or district require students to take a college readiness test?  If not, are there funds available to furnish those assessments for students to any extent?
  • If there is no exit exam requirement in your district, either comprehensive or end-of-course, what measures are place to ensure that students have mastered course and graduation outcomes?
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