Required High School Exit Exams

Passing grades just doesn’t guarantee graduation and a high school diploma anymore in many public schools across the nation. To ensure that students who receive high school diplomas meet basic requirements of academic proficiency and job readiness, many states across the nation have adopted the exit exams that students must pass in order to graduate and receive a diploma. State exit exams are most often based on 10th grade proficiency standards; a few states aligned their exams to the 8th and 9th grade levels and some others to the 11th and 12th grade levels ( August 2006). The number of states that are implementing this law is on the rise throughout the United States. The high school exit exam covers skills in language arts and math. There are several mixed feelings on whether high school exit exams should be required both positive and negative. These mixed feelings come from many different kinds of people such as students, parents, teachers and even politicians. Along with these exit exam comes controversy, hidden cost, and the possibilities of drop out rates sky rocketing to record lows. The over all intentions of this law are set to help students and prepare them for the future in the “real world” as we sometimes refer to life after high school.

There have been positive outcomes from states that have implemented the law that requires students to pass their high school exit exams in order to graduate and receive a high school diploma. According to the Center on Education policy (CED) about 90 percent of high school seniors ultimately pass the test, although a high percentage of students fail the first time they take it (Kavan Peterson,, 2005). There are many ways for students to prepare for these high school exit exams to include, preparation books, web sites and additional tutoring by high schools. The average exit exam is aligned with the 10th grade education level. The students can take the test up to eight times during their high school years, which offers plenty of opportunities and should be no problem for high school seniors to pass. It is arguable that the high school exit exams are necessary in order receive a diploma, but it also helps to maintain its value as academic achievement. By setting these standards the value of diplomas will be credible for employers and institutions of higher learning, which use them as indicators of the possession of necessary skills to perform a specific employment.

As I stated before states are providing different opportunities in order to help students pass the high school exit exams. In some cases Arizona, Washington, and Maryland have expanded their alternate paths in order to help students that are struggling to pass the exit exam. Some of the alternatives offered are substitution of SAT and ACT scores, receiving credit toward exam scores for satisfactory course grades, waivers and appeals process. There are currently twenty subject tests apart of the SAT, all of which fall under the general subjects of English, history, math, science, and languages.

Some states allow students to use their exit exams even if they have transferred from another state. Out of the 25 states that currently require or are in the process of requiring exit exams, more than one third offer remediation to students as well as working to find the most effective type of remediation to be most beneficial to the student. Where as California has nearly tripled it’s spending; to help remediate students who have failed the exam. The implementation of high school exit exams could motivate schools to better serve the students and their educational needs therefore; by implementing the high school exit exam schools could see the number of high school graduates increase.

As more and more states adopt the high school exit exam, schools are trying to align their curriculum with the exams in order to prepare students for the exam when the time comes. By implementing these high school exit exams it not only prepares students for job readiness and higher learning, but it points out particular areas where students have deficiencies, therefore, helping to improve and focus on the more effective education curriculum.

While there are many people supporting the high school exit exams, there are many opposing the high school exit exam as a requirement in order to graduate and receive a diploma? Opponents of the high school exit exam requirement, complain that the exam will drive already low graduation rates even lower. Critics feel that it is fundamentally unfair to deny students their high school diploma after completing thirteen- years of school. Because of the high school exit exams many students who have planned to attend college or pursue a military career do not have that option unless they successfully pass the exam. Since the high school exit exam has been implemented, English language learners and students with disabilities tend to have the lowest pass rates on the exam, yet only 4 out of the 25 states with current or planned exit exams offer special options, other than test accommodations. While states participate and join the forces of implementing high school exit exams nation wide, the cost in which it will take to finance these exams is not exactly covered. Most often the cost of exit exams is imposed on districts with little to no support from the state and districts reduce other education programs to cover these hidden costs ( September 2006).

It is unfair to require students to pass test on material they haven’t been taught and schools have yet to get new textbooks, and teachers haven’t been trained to standards. By requiring students to take the high school exit exams, too many students would not be able to graduate from high school, putting them at risk of failure in life and increasing their chances of dropping out. Education researchers fear that the high school exit exams will intimidate students and lead to higher drop out rates, especially among low income or disabled students and Black and Latino high school students who fail at higher rates than white or Asian students. The Manhattan Institute for policy research uses two highly respected rate calculations to figure out if the high school exit exams are effective or not. The results show that adopting a high school exit exam has no effect on state’s graduation rate. Some states set the high school exit exam to a middle school level, with that in mind where is the high school student even being challenged or when students in high school should be preparing for college. The high school exit exam appears to be a waste of time. The “real” problems in the education systems that need to be fixed are the poor learning conditions, rather than a high school exit exam.

A quote I came across that doesn’t support the high school exit exam said, “Exit exams aggravate existing inequalities and do NOTHING to enhance academic excellence. They are a phony fix to a complex problem.” (New York Times article by Applied Research Center, Feb. 24, 1999.) The most group of students that appear to be having the difficulties are the minorities. With that in mind, the high school exit exams could be singling out the minority group of students and causing a wedge between the many different cultures in our nation. High schools already have class grades, portfolios and final exam, requirements in order to graduate and receive a diploma, for that reason the added high school exit exam creates another stress for students and these measurements are far more accurate determinants of both their performance and their knowledge.

After extensive research on whether high school exit exams are necessary and effective in order to graduate and receive a high school diploma, I’ve come to the conclusion to believe that high school exit exams should not be required in order to graduate and receive a high school diploma. I feel that yes they could help schools and teacher assess on areas in the learning curriculum that need improvement. Although, by demanding this exit exam many students who are barely making it could be held back and become discouraged, therefore dropping out of high school where they might have had a chance if it wasn’t for the exit exam. The high school exit exam is not completely aligned with the curriculum that is being taught in schools, so the students are hardly even prepared, when the time comes to take the exam. Students already have graduation requirements which they have to maintain in order to graduate, for example finals, reports, portfolios, therefore this high school exit exam could be hurting them more than helping them. I believe there are many other problems within the education systems, such as qualified teachers, adequate learning environments and sufficient learning materials. So by applying the high school exit exam the real problems are not being fixed, but only being masked by a useless test.

Work Cited

Hoor Bahnpuri, Susuan K. Sexton, “State high school exit exam: hidden cost”,
Center on Education Policy, 2006,

Daniel Weintraub, “High school exit exams under fire”
Scientifically correct, July 21, 2003,

Jack Jennings, “State high school exit exams: A challenging year”,
Center on Education Policy, August 2006,

Kavan Peterson, High school exit exams on the rise”,
Stateline, May 23, 2005,

Eric Kelderman, High school exit exams set low bar,
Stateline, June 10, 2004,

Jay P Greene, Ph.D., Push Out or Pulled Up? Exit exams and dropout rates in public high schools”, Manhattan institute for policy research, May 5, 2004,