School exit exams urged in Connecticut, despite US trend


HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — In ordering Connecticut to overhaul its education system, a state judge suggested an exit exam requirement for students to graduate from high school.

It’s a strategy some states first implemented in the 1970s, as a way to measure student performance, but the exams have been dropped in many places amid a backlash against standardized testing.

In Hartford, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher proposed exit exams of some kind in a ruling Wednesday as part of broader reforms to address inequities between educational programs at rich and poor schools. He ordered state officials to come up with a plan within six months.

Here are some questions and answers about exit exams around the country.

HOW MANY STATES USE GRADUATION EXAMS?

About half the states have exit exams, but the trend has been away from using them. California suspended its exam last year. A number of states are reviewing the use of the exams as they consider whether certain standardized tests, such as assessments aligned with the Common Core program, can stand for others including exit exams, says Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center for Education Policy.

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WHAT DID THE CONNECTICUT JUDGE SAY?

The judge said in his ruling that many of Connecticut’s poorest students are being let down by a system that awards diplomas without assuring they have basic math and literacy skills. “The state is letting graduation rates rise without them meaning that there are more educated people among us,” Moukawsher wrote. Whatever the state chooses as a test, that exam must connect secondary-school learning with secondary-school degrees, he said.

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WHAT DO OPPONENTS SAY?

Critics have argued that exit exams could block students who do not pass from attending college or that schools could make them so watered down, in an effort to ensure students graduate, that the tests become meaningless. Others express concern that students, particularly poor students, will become discouraged and drop out of school.

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WHAT DO SUPPORTERS SAY?

Eric Hanushek, of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, testified during the Connecticut trial that exit exams can be an effective way to improve outcomes. “I think that this is one of the few ways you can give strong incentives to the students themselves to in fact perform well. Most of our incentives are not very strong for students to work very hard,” he said.

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