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Bruno: High School Graduation Exams Are Bad For Students

8682529704_3b6e5d4ae9_nI've always been puzzled by the case for high school exit exams.

Throwing additional hurdles in front of students toward the end of their K-12 career seems likely to do little except keep a few more students from graduating on time.

It makes a little more sense to use minimum competency exams to make a high school diploma "mean something". Most of the world, however, already seems to think that it means something to complete high school - hence, for example, graduates' superior employment prospects - even if precisely what it means is a little fuzzy.

So this new working paper from Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang should worry us. They find that exit exams reduce graduation rates and increase incarceration rates, especially as the exams become more rigorous.

The effects aren't all large, but they're measureable. And, importantly, the  authors also fail to find evidence that exit exams improve employment outcomes.

Even if the exams seem to have no significant effects whatsoever, that still implies that we're wasting considerable resources on them. The fact that the measureable effects of exit exams all appear to be negative weighs even more strongly against their use. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Exit exams that are mandatory seem to go through cycles: they are imposed with great fanfare indicating that their mere existence will push achievement upward, thus making the diploma "mean something." Later, when too many students fail them, the standards are lowered because politicians and school districts can't take the heat. In reality, since we hesitate to deny a diploma to any student who shows up faithfully, exit exams either have to have very low standards or else they have to NOT be a barrier to graduation. But then they duplicate the ACT/SAT, so why have them at all?

Graduation tests are simply a farce. A student can be a straight A student all throughout school only to be completely held back because their whole academic career hinges on one test. Schools should instead administer more comprehensive tests on what students don't know to prepare them for what they should know in college or give kids the option to graduate early if they pass these current graduation tests. The tests aren't necessarily a hindrance to people who go to school faithfully but it should definitely not have the weight to be a roadblock for the students who weren't perfect.

Since there does not seem to be any positive significant effects, like colleges, potential employers, or even the military looking at them, what is the point? To prevent the idea that they could become a failing school? Or are they doing this to look like a rigorous school? If this is the case, then here is where the irony kicks in: let’s say you create these exams to prevent the idea of having a failing school, or create the idea of a standout school, but when you add this extra pressure to students who either take them and fail or not take them at all end up not even graduating; especially when the exams become more challenging, this is what you end up becoming (or not becoming).

Your whole life in school students take test after test a student is and A or B average student and fail and exit exam that just put the student back. Like in the state of Georgia there are some tests that i think is unnecessary like COCT and student also take Graduation test too. Think school should have more tests that are understandable.

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