High school exit exams have been controversial since their implementation nearly thirty years ago and based on the results of two recently released studies the controversy is only going to heat up.
According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education a working paper by Thomas S. Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College, and Brian A. Jacob, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University, shows that students in states with relatively easy exit exams are roughly 4 percent more likely to drop out of high school than similar students in states with no exams. In states with relatively difficult exit exams, students are 5.5 percent more likely to drop out than their counterparts in states with no exams.
The working paper also reports that for blacks the dropout figures are 5.2 percent and 7.3 percent respectively. The general conclusion by the authors is that exit exams exacerbate the achievement gap. There was one monkey wrench though in the conclusion since they found native-born Hispanic women were more likely to complete school in states with exit exams.
The other paper written by John Robert Warren, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with help from Krista N. Jenkins, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Rachael B. Kulick, a graduate student in sociology at Minnesota, reported rates of high-school completion are lower in states with exit exams than in states without such exams. It also reported that GED test taking was higher in states with exit exams. Both studies try to make the case that exit exams are harmful and in the Warren study even punitive. They tend to ignore the fact that most students who fail do so because they have extremely poor skills. Many of them just goofed off until it was too late.
In Maryland the exit exams were initiated after I graduated and I have felt for years that the idea of giving students a basic proficiency test was a good idea. Back then (1977) it was all to easy to take easy courses that not only inflated your GPA, but helped give you enough credits to graduate. There was never any emphasis on preparing us to face the real world. It was a harsh lesson when I reached college to find out how poor my own study skills were as a result of some easy high school years. And I was no dummy.
The effort to eliminate exit exams claiming they are racially biased or punitive to those that aren’t academic achievers does a great disservice to our society. We have for too long accepted mediocrity and allowed our students to be dumbed down allowing other countries to surpass us in areas we once dominated.