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Exit Exams Need Overhaul, Report Says

Over at College Bound, my colleague Caralee Adams is digging into a New America Foundation report that suggests states need to improve the transition for students taking their high school exit exams as the schools implement more rigorous common standards.

The report comes on the heels of a study released yesterday, which suggested increasing course requirements in mathematics and science was associated with lower high school graduation rates and college enrollment.

As Adams notes:

"For the Class of 2014, 24 states require students to pass state exit exams in various subjects in order to graduate, up from 18 to 2002, according to the report, including Florida, Mississippi, and Virginia. But as the report notes, this testing is 'controversial,' and the policies are in flux. The New America analysis finds that seven states plan to eliminate the exit exam requirement, including Arizona, Georgia, and Minnesota, while a few others may add them.

As many as 21 states plan to continue their exit exams in English/Language arts and mathematics as they move forward to implement more challenging tests aligned with the common core, New America says, including 10 states that are expected to use high school tests developed by either PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the two common-assessment consortia. The remaining 11 states are planning to use tests unique to their states."

The report suggests states weigh the ancillary effects of using exit exams and consider changing them to be used for positive incentives, such as earning college credit. 

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researcher Andrew Plunk, lead author of the study on course requirements, seconded the need for education leaders to consider ways to ease policy shifts for students. "Broad policy changes like requiring more math and science classes almost always affect some people in ways that we often have trouble anticipating," Plunk told me. "I don't necessarily have a specific list of recommendations for policymakers, but that also speaks to the point: These broad one-size-fits-all policies truly don't work for many kids and we have to be proactive and do a better job of anticipating who will have trouble adjusting before they do something like drop out of high school."

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