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Pay Now or Pay Later: The Hidden Costs of High School Exit Exams

Susan Notes: The report is based on studies of the costs of exam preparation in three states: Indiana, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. Below is the first part of the summary. The rest of the report can be accessed online. Remember, these fellows are Standardistas traveling under a progressive mantle, so you'll find the good, the bad, and the indifferent in this report.

Key Findings:

  • No cheap fix. Although state policymakers may view exit exams as a low-cost way to raise student achievement, the extra costs of helping students pass these exams are considerable. To simply maintain the state's current level of exit exam perormance costs as estimated $171 per student in Minnesota, a state with an 8th grade exam; $385 in Massachusetts, a state with a more rigorous 10th grade exam; and $557 in Indiana, a state with a 10th grade exam of average difficulty.

  • Cost savings through coordinated reforms. There are sound ways to lessen the costs of exit exams. Massachusetts has the most rigorous exit exam system of the three states studied, but its costs are in the middle range. This is probably because the exam is part of a well-integrated state system of standards, assessments, and accountability measures aimed at preventing general academic failure up front--thereby reducing the costs of exam-related remedial services later.
    No mention of the human costs. Look at Massachusetts true graduation rates.

  • Hidden costs of remediation and prevention. The direct costs of developing and administering the tests themselves make up a tiny fraction of the total costs of implementing an exit exam policy. The bulk of the costs go toward other "hidden" expenses necessary to give students a strong chance of opassing the mandatory exams. These include remedial services for students who fail, programs to prevent failure, and professional development to upgrade the skills of teachers who must prepare students for the exams.

  • Invisible local costs The true costs of an exit exam policy are often invisible to state policymakers, because the expenses are being borne mostly by local school districts--and often by shifting existing funds away from other educational priorities. . . .

  • Lessons for Policymakers
    Starting out with rigor It is much cheaper to start with a rigorous exit exam than to change from an easier to a harder test at some future point. . . .

    There's lots more. This is a 140 page report.

    The Center on Education Policy



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