No Exit?

On November 6, 2013 Applied Research Center (ARC) was rebranded as Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. The content on this page was published on the ARC website prior to the rebrand.
April 13, 2006

Executive Summary

This report documents how exit exams and many other commonly used and increasingly popular public school testing and tracking practices perpetuate and aggravate racial inequities and classroom segregation.
Exit exams in particular disproportionately prevent students of color from receiving their diplomas -- students who have otherwise completed all graduation requirements. In fact, the report finds that students of color are denied diplomas more often than white students, sometimes almost twice as often.

High stakes exit exams essentially punish students for attending substandard schools. For instance, whites are almost twice as likely as Mexican Americans and African Americans to pass the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, a high stakes high school exit exam that was first implemented in 1990. Although Mexican Americans and African Americans make up approximately 40 percent of all Texas high school seniors, they represent 85 percent of the 7,650 students who fail the final administration of the exit exam each year.

While the criterion validity of such tests remains questionable, high school grades are known as the best predictor of success in college. In fact, numerous universities across the country now use grades instead of SAT scores to evaluate applications.

Primary Policy Recommendations
  •    Eliminate high stakes high school exit exams. These tests do nothing to improve the quality of education students receive, and they deny high school diplomas to a disproportionate number of students of color who have completed all other graduation requirements.

    •    Guarantee that all high schools offer a full range of academic courses, including Advanced Placement courses. In many districts, the schools attended by students of color do not provide these college-preparatory offerings, while schools serving primarily white students do.

    •    Eliminate tracking based on ability assessments. Mixing students of differing levels of achievement helps faster and slower students learn better. Try to substitute heterogeneous work groups for "ability-based" groups in individual classes.