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.