Questions About High School Exit Tests Remain

A new study finds there’s no proof that high school exit tests like Tennessee’s Gateway Exam are effective-but there’s no proof they aren’t, either.

Exit exams are state-administered tests that students must pass in order to earn a high school diploma. Supporters say they raise standards for students and increase accountability in school systems. Opponents claim using such high-stakes tests can actually drive up the dropout rate.

The Center for Education Policy says experts who’ve tried to determine which argument is true couldn’t reach a conclusion. CEP President Jack Jennings says that’s because most of the 23 states with exit exams aren’t willing to release enough data.

“These high school exit exams are having an impact on a broad majority of students throughout the country and yet we don’t know enough about them. We don’t know enough about the effects of these exams and we need to make much greater efforts to collect the proper data, to do the research, and to be thoughtful about how we implement this type of reform.”

Tennessee does make more data available than most other states.

Tennessee will soon change its approach to exit exams. Certain required courses, such as English and Algebra, end in a state test. Currently it must be passed, or else the student fails the class entirely and cannot graduate. Starting with next year’s 9th graders, the exam will instead count for 25 percent of a student’s grade. The study’s authors say Tennessee will be the only state with that policy.

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