Blog: The Educated Reporter

Report: In Era of Common Core, States Must Reconsider High School Exit Exams

As states transition to assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards, they should also be rethinking policies tying those exams to high school diplomas, argues New America’s Anne Hyslop in a new report.

In The Case Against Exit Exams, Hyslop points out that the new assessments are supposed to measure whether students are positioned for post-secondary success, be it college or career. However, “when used as an exit exam, they could now also determine who is able to go to college by earning a diploma,” Hyslop wrote.

There are 21 states that intend to continue using exit exams, including 10 that have signed on to one of two Common Core-aligned testing consortia: Smarter Balanced, and the Partnership to Assess Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). 

Hyslop identifies six states — Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington – facing potentially the rockiest transitions from high-stakes exit exams to the new Common Core-aligned assessments. The report makes a number of recommendations for navigating that road without hurting students’ future opportunities in the process. Among them: replacing “punitive stakes” with incentives, such as giving students additional academic credit for strong scores on the assessments, or making them eligible  for additional financial aid for higher education. The assessments could also be used to identify students who need additional remediation before graduating, Hyslop said. 

In 2012, I asked the Center on Education Policy’s Shelby McIntosh whether there needed to be a cooling-off period before Common Core-aligned assessments were used as exit exams. Here’s her response:

There has to be an opportunity for schools and students to adjust before being held accountable to the higher standards. States that took the time to phase in controversial policies, to see how they were affecting students, seemed to have better experiences. That’s the lesson here: It can’t be done by jumping into the deep end of the pool …Any time there are increasing expectations for all students that is a good thing. We want all students to be prepared for a career right out of high school or for college. Our concern is that those high expectations are properly supported, so that they don’t wind up hurting some groups of students.”

You can read the full 2012 CEP report on exit exam policies here. The Education Commission of the States is also keeping close tabs on the exit exams issue, and has a legislative tracker that is updated weekly.

EWA has a wealth of resources to tap on related issues, including Topics pages on College & Career Readiness and the Common Core. Our new Reporter Guide on State Education Policy is also a useful tool for crafting your coverage.

You might also want to catch up on recent content from EWA’s 67th National Seminar. Sarah Darville of Chalkbeat NYC was The Educated Reporter’s guest blogger for the Common Core: Angles on Assessments session in Nashville in May. There’s also video highlights from the six presenters. 


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