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DO GRADUATION TESTS MEASURE UP?: New Report Finds that High School Exit Exams Lack Rigor

"Though these tests are less rigorous than most parents and taxpayers might expect, the states that give them are doing the right thing," saidAchieve President Michael Cohen.

A new study that examined the content and rigor of high school exit exams in six states found that the math component was on the level of the material taught in the middle grades in most other countries and that the English component falls well below college admissions standards. The report, Do Graduation Tests Measure Up? A Closer Look at State High School Exit Exams, studied exit exams from Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas, states that volunteered to allow an in-depth independent review of their test material.

“Though these tests are less rigorous than most parents and taxpayers might expect, the states that give them are doing the right thing,” saidAchieve President Michael Cohen. “They are using the exams to stretch their students and schools beyond previous performance levels. Initially low passing rates are yielding to improved performance. Yet our research shows that, over time, states must expect even more in order to prepare their students for college and work after high school.”

The report found that, on average, most English test questions fall two grade levels below what the American College Testing Program (ACT) emphasizes on its college admission test. While the tests do measure basic but essential knowledge and skills, they fall well short of the demands graduates are likely to face in college or in the workplace. For example, reading questions, which account for up to 30 percent of the questions on the American College Testing Program test (ACT), are “virtually absent from the state tests.” In fact, the test most closely linked to state exit exams in reading is the ACT’s EXPLORE test, which is given to eighth and ninth graders.

“Given where the bar on these tests is currently set and compared to the expectations colleges and employers have for high school graduates, it is perfectly reasonable to require students to pass these exams,” said Achieve Executive Vice President Matthew Gandal, who directed the study. “States cannot afford to back away from these requirements or they risk leaving another generation of young people unprepared.”

Currently, exit exams are in place in nearly half the states, and more than half the nation’s high school students have to pass them to earn a diploma. However, several states are considering postponing the testing requirement, while others are reevaluating the difficulty of the test itself.

Read the complete report here.

New Alliance Report to be Released on June 23: Tapping the Potential: Retaining and Developing High-Quality New TeachersOn June 23, the Alliance will release Tapping the Potential: Retaining and Developing High-Quality New Teachers. The report outlines the importance of comprehensive induction in retaining and developing new teachers and includes a foreword by Dan Fallon of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) will discuss his Preparing, Recruiting, and Retaining Education Professionals (PRREP) Act, legislation that would, if enacted, authorize $500 million for the Teacher Quality Enhancement Grants program of the Higher Education Act to enhance teacher recruitment, retention, preparation and professional development, and would provide an induction program for general and special education teachers during their first three years. Richard Ingersoll, Associate Professor of Education and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, will act as a respondent. Tom Carroll, Executive Director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future will argue for the need of a federal role in teacher induction. Additionally, a panel of state and local school administrators and teachers from Connecticut, California, Louisiana, and Ohio will discuss promising practices currently underway in their states.

The release event will be held from 8:30 to 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 23, in 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building, located at First Street and Constitution Avenue, NE, in Washington, D.C. Space for the event is limited, and RSVPs will be accepted on a first-come basis After the release event, the complete report will be available on the Alliance website at


Alliance News: Alliance Staff Address Future LeadersOn May 27 the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted an information session with twenty of our nation’s top students. As part of their participation in the Brookings Summer Institute, in Washington, D.C., the 2004 Harry S. Truman Scholars spent a week visiting organizations, hearing from guest speakers, and participating in roundtable discussions with various scholars and experts. Each of the scholars is participating in a summer internship in Washington. For more information about the program, visit June 4, Iris Bond, an Alliance policy associate, served as a panelist at the American Association of University Women’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders to discuss career opportunities available in education policy. The two-and-a-half-day conference was designed for women students holding campus and community leadership positions as well as students with leadership aspirations. The conference provided information about the skills and resources needed to meet today’s challenges as leaders. For more information, visit


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