Pros and Cons of Public School Exit Exams

Updated June 16, 2016 |
Pros and Cons of Public School Exit Exams
Learn about whether public school exit exams will be a benefit or drawback for students.
The Center of Education Policy predicts that by 2012, nearly 74% of all public schools in America will require students to pass an exit exam in order to graduate. Currently, many schools across the country have already implemented mandatory exit-course tests, often referred to as “EOCs” (which stands for “End of Course” exam).
According to interviews and surveys, “state education officials reported many reasons for adopting end-of-course exams. Almost all states that have adopted or are moving toward end-of-course exams reported that they are doing so to improve overall accountability, increase academic rigor and achieve alignment between state standards and curriculum.”
An Overview of Exit Exams
The national education initiative “No Child Left Behind” is considered to be one of the main causes and catalysts for the rise in exit-exams. No Child Left Behind essentially requires all schools to submit formal standardized test scores, which will be utilized to assess and review each school’s performance. To better prepare students for the standardized tests, many schools have implemented EOCs and graduation tests in order to provide students with added and consistent testing practice. 
A graduation exit exam is often a project or test that assesses a student’s overall understanding of their high school educational experience; an EOC, on the other hand, is designed to more specifically assess a student’s understanding of a particular class / course content and information. 
In addition to providing students with beneficial testing practice, many school and state leaders assert that exit exams are being instated in order to hold all students equally accountable for the information that they were required to learn throughout their course and/or high school career. 
As Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times explains, “‘States say they are moving toward end-of-course exams because the tests make more sense in terms of alignment with existing high school curriculum,’ said Jack Jennings, CEP president and chief executive. ‘However, to understand the full impact of end-of-course exams, we need more detailed studies about implementation issues and how the exams affect student outcomes, curriculum, teaching, and performance by specific student groups.’”
The Current Exit Exam Policies
Currently, the only state with a state-mandated graduation exit exam is Washington; however, as the testing requirements are becoming increasingly popular, the Los Angeles Times reports that 14 more states “will use end-of-course exams by 2015: Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.” Adding to this, a number of states are also investigating new ways to incorporate graduation exams and/or graduation projects into their curriculum.   
The Pros and Cons of Exit Exams: Examining the Debate
With the rising trend of graduation and EOC exit exams, the Center of Education Policy predicts: “more students will be required to take more difficult end-of-course exams in order to graduate, signaling that state leaders are not entirely satisfied with exit exams, which are minimum competency tests.” While these exit exams were instated to ensure student accountability, many educators and school leaders are concerned about the potentially harmful impacts of such tests.
Specifically, Barbara Pytel explains that students with specific learning disabilities or academic struggles are often overlooked when it comes to standardized testing: “Taking a tough stand while pounding on a podium in the presence of other legislators does not make learning disabilities and learning styles disappear. Mandating accountability does not find homeless children a home, does not make drive by shootings disappear, does not make dads appear in a single parent home and it doesn’t improve language skills for ESL students (English as a Second Language).” 
As Pytel asserts, the standardized tests often punish students who are dealing with personal and/or cognitive struggles, as they are designed to only assess students of “average” academic ability; however, regardless of one’s circumstance or natural ability, all students are required to take state-mandated tests.
Adding to this, Terri Sessoms, from the International Center for Leadership in Education, argues that students all have unique learning styles; as a result, “Teachers take these learning styles into account when teaching new concepts. Students may watch a presentation (visual), take notes as teacher instructs (auditory) and complete a project based on the same information (kinesthetic).” 
Despite these learning differences, however, “The standardized exit exams that many states are adopting favor the left-brained students. These students tend to learn by lecture, memorize easier, and don’t become confused with the answer choices. Right-brained students don't do as well on these tests in spite of knowing the topic. They see every answer as a possibility under the right conditions. In spite of knowing the information, they are likely to select an incorrect answer.”
Ultimately, the testing policies were initiated in order to ensure that schools and students were performing successfully. Ideally, these tests are supposed to help school and state leaders figure out new ways to provide students with more beneficial lessons and learning opportunities. Despite these goals, however, as Pytel argues, “While demanding exit exams may sound good initially, these exams do not truly reflect the knowledge students hold. The exams don’t prepare the students for the real world where they are allowed to use manuals (and) ask questions.”

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