NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Exit Exams Boosting Dropout Rates?

June 27, 2003

Thousands of students leave high school each year without a diploma, and increasing numbers choose to take the General Educational Development (GED) tests rather than face a series of "exit exams" before being allowed to graduate.

Critics say that exit exams, which 18 states now require, make "test-prep factories" of most high schools, drive out students, and increase dropout rates. According to Walter Haney of Boston College:

  • In six large states with exit exams, graduation rates dropped eight percentage points, on average, from 1987 to 1999.
  • In six states without the tests, graduation rates dropped 2.5 percentage points but were 14 percent higher overall.
  • The group Advocates for Children charges that many of the 160,000 students discharged in New York City high schools in recent years were pushed out by administrators encouraging them to seek GEDs.
  • Enrollment data from the city's class of 2001 showed that 31 out of 205 high schools discharged more students than they graduated.

Over 25 to 30 years, a dropout can cost a community up to $500,000 in public assistance, health care and incarceration costs, and GED earners' job prospects equal those of dropouts. By contrast, a diploma can add nearly $500,000 in earning power over a worker's career.

Some experts believe that only smaller high schools for at-risk students will decrease their dropout rates.

Source: Greg Toppo, "Are Exit Exams Boosting Dropout Rates?" USA Today, June 18, 2003.


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