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STATES TRY HARDER, BUT GAPS PERSIST: Analysis of State Exit Exams Finds Little Improvement in Closing the Achievement Gap

"We have to resolve the fundamental question about the fairness of the exit exams," said Jack Jennings, CEP president and CEO

Currently, twenty-five states use or plan to soon implement exit exams, tests that students must pass in order to receive a high school diploma. According to a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP), pass rates for state exit exams have not moved much in the last year, despite a major push by many states to implement intensive preparation and remediation programs aimed at helping more students succeed. States Try Harder, But Gaps Persist, the fourth in a series of annual reports that tracks the status, characteristics, and effect of the exams, also found that achievement gaps on high schools exams are largely unchanged.

Among students taking the test for the first time, pass rates ranged from 70 percent to 90 percent in most states, but achievement gaps between white students and their Hispanic and African-American peers averaged 20 to 30 percentage points in most states. Gaps are also large among students from low-income families and students with disabilities. In particular, English Language Learners (ELL) struggled with the tests, with pass rates 30 to 40 points below the student average in math, and even greater gaps in reading.

“We have to resolve the fundamental question about the fairness of the exit exams,” said Jack Jennings, CEP president and CEO. “If this reform strategy is going to succeed we need to make sure that there are appropriate supports for [ELL students], students with disabilities, and others. States have started to move toward greater supports, but they must greatly accelerate their efforts.”

By 2012, three-quarters of all American public school students will have to take exit exams, including “disproportionate amounts of minority students (82 percent) and ELL students (87 percent), in part due to heavy concentrations of Latino students living in exit exam states.

The complete report is available at

Coaches in the High School Classroom: Studies in Implementing High School Reform 

As more students enter middle and high school reading several grades behind their peers, the education community has begun to focus on adolescent literacy interventions that can teach reading and reading comprehension to older students.

To promote and support these new instructional practices, many districts have created cadres of literacy coaches to work directly with teachers in the classroom. Coaches in the High School Classroom, a report by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, takes an in-depth look at the work of six coaches working in the Boston and Houston school districts to shed light on the processes, choices, and challenges posed by the role of the instructional coach.

The report is available at


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