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NCLB Outrages

State High-School Exit Tests Do Not Improve Academic Achievement, Study Finds

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By Peter Schmidt

A new study has found that state requirements that students pass exit tests to graduate from high school appear to do nothing to improve achievement on federal reading and mathematics tests.

The study, the results of which have been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Educational Policy, compared the reading and math scores of children in states with exit examinations to the scores of children elsewhere in the United States and concluded that there was no evidence that requiring passage of such tests improved academic achievement in those subject areas.

Even the most rigorous versions of the exit tests failed to produce significant improvements in the reading and math performance, according to the report on the study's findings written by Eric Grodsky, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Davis, with Demetra Kalogrides, a graduate student in sociology at that campus, and John Robert Warren, an associate professor of sociology and a director of undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

The researchers derived their conclusions from an analysis of the scores of 13- and 17-year-olds on a version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress used to measure long-term trends in student achievement. In addition to looking at average scores on the federal tests, they examined trends at various score thresholds to make sure the state exit tests were not, for example, resulting in fewer students doing very poorly or very well on the national assessment.

Their report is one of a series in which Mr. Grodsky and Mr. Warren have questioned the benefits of the high-school exit examinations that have been adopted by 23 states, accounting for about two-thirds of the nation's high-school seniors.

In study results published in January in the journal Sociology of Education, the two researchers and Jennifer C. Lee, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University at Bloomington, found that people who earned their diplomas in states with high-school exit tests did not earn higher incomes than people who earned their diplomas elsewhere, and were no more likely to complete college or be employed. The analysis was weighted to exclude the effects of class, race, state education spending, and other potentially confounding variables.

Taking that study into account, along with other research finding that such tests result in declines in high-school graduation rates, the latest report takes the bottom-line view that the tests "produce adverse outcomes for educational attainment for a substantial minority of students while providing no estimable labor market or achievement benefits for others."

The report says, "The cumulative evidence on these policies is clear: They should either be substantially revised to provide the benefits supporters claim they provide, or they should be abandoned."

In a videotaped interview distributed on Monday along with his latest studies' findings, Mr. Warren says the failure of the tests to produce marked increases in learning may be due the states' decisions to make the tests easier in response to the political resistance triggered by high failure rates.

"It is a double-edge sword," Mr. Warren says. "If you raise the standards, you risk lots and lots of kids not getting diplomas. If you don't raise the standards, you risk kids not learning much more."

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that promotes high academic achievement, said in an interview on Monday that high-school exit exams have never really been widely regarded as "good vehicles to promote high achievement or college-ready achievement."

— Peter Schmidt
Chronicle of Higher Education
2008-05-13


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