Exit exams don’t cause early exits

Graduation exams don’t increase the drop-out rate, according to a study by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute. The study also shows that neither reducing class size not increasing funding leads to higher graduation rates. In a New York Sun column on New York’s Regents exams, Greene writes:

First, many of the students who don’t pass exit exams would have failed to graduate anyway. For example, in Florida, home of one of the nation’s most difficult exit exams, state officials estimated that about 40% of the seniors in the class of 2003 who could not pass the state’s exit exam had also not completed the necessary coursework to receive a diploma.

Furthermore, the number of students who truly cannot pass exit exams is probably quite small. An analysis by the Fordham Foundation found that most exit exams actually require surprisingly low levels of proficiency.

In most states students are routinely given second, third, and even seventh chances to pass exit exams before they are finally denied a diploma.

Between each administration of the test students who have failed are provided with extra help specifically designed to get them past the test requirement. Given so many tries, eventually most students who are able to complete the other requirements to graduate also pass the exit exam, even if only by chance.

. . . Exit exams force schools to focus their time and resources on low-achieving students they previously ignored. This improved use of resources causes some students to earn their diplomas who otherwise would have dropped out.

The number of students helped by exit exams appears to balance the number who fail to graduate because they can’t pass, Greene writes.

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  1. Dropping out is usually done by those who can get away with it. The other low-achieving students have to pretend to care to keep their lives at home from becoming too miserable. The existence of an exit exam isn’t likely to make more parents allow their children to drop out.

    On the whole, the fears were misplaced. Those who would drop out already could, and their (probably inevitable) decisions may have been helped along by the existence of the test. For the rest of the students, the exams were a reason to consider trying a bit harder. In effect, the exams are a potential academic boon at no expense to the bozos who weren’t going to bother anyway. I say “potential” because it’s likely just a matter of time before the tests get dumbed down.

  2. OJ Dona says:

    I just finished reading your article and was surprised at how you exagerated on the aptitude levels of 12th graders attempting Exit Exams.

    I am currently trying to tutor a student who has passed math courses all the way up to the 12th grade, and yet she unfortunately CANNOT pass a standard 3rd grade examination (Texas).

    Worse yet, she wants to be a teacher.


    I gave her the “What do you want to do with your life?” speech last night, along with the, “If God has called you to be a housewife or a gas station attendant then you will be okay” counseling, followed by the “There is no way in the world you can pass the FCAT” discussion.

    She tells me that perhaps she doesn’t want to be a teacher after all.

    Again *sigh*

    And you are so right about calculators. I have taught calculus at U of N and I would NEVER allow a calculator in my classroom.

    When I start teaching high school you can be assured that I will make a difference for these kids, give them an “F” when they deserve it, NEVER give a “D”, and will never buckle under the pressure of administration interference. If they fire me for giving a kid what they deserve, then I’ll look for a school that cares about actually educating kids.

    Great articles on your web page…keep up the good work.

    OJ Dona, Major, US Air Force