A description of those affected most by the exit exams will be given, and a look at what some districts are doing to improve test scores will be worthwhile.
Exits exams have many aliases, including proficiency tests, graduation exams, minimum competency exams (MCEs) and mandatory exit exams (MEEs). The bottom line to all of them is that even if a student finished the 12th grade with the minimum required grade point average, and the mandatory amount of credits, no diploma will be issued until the student passes the exit exam required by the state. As of June 2008, students in 23 states will have to pass exit exams to receive high school diplomas (Rosenthal, 2008). Some states don't require it yet, but soon will. Students in Maryland, for example, won't have to begin passing the exam until 2009 (Rosenthal, 2008). Other school districts, though, are begging out of the exam. Two years ago, "Utah pulled back from making exit exams mandatory" (No New States, 2006). In California, lawsuits were filed when students didn't receive diplomas, based solely on the inability to pass a proficiency exam, but the California Supreme Court upheld the state's decision to withhold diplomas when students failed to prove minimum competency using the exam. Decisions like that have sparked debate all over the United States. Proponents believe it is a good idea for various reasons. Opponents have an even longer list of reasons why the exit exams are unfair. Teachers claim to be tired of juggl[ing] two accountability standards (Cromer, 2007), one from the state and one from the No Child Left Behind act, and others feel that teachers have no right to complain since many of them do, or will receive "some form of incentive pay" (Cromer, 2007) when their students pass their exam. With all of this going on, it is not difficult to see why the states are in such a state of flux about the issue.
Those who are for the examine take much criticism, but have valid points. Proponents claim that the exam will "encourage students to achieve basic competency in core subjects and to make the high school diploma more meaningful" (Rosenthal, 2008). There is little definition about what a meaningful diploma is, but the arguments don't stop there. They claim that dropout rates haven't declined because of the exam (Greene & Winters, 2004), as evidence that students take more pride in their high school experience. It is said, "Most students who are serious about graduating high school should be able to pass such an exam if given enough tries" (Greene & Winters, 2004). Although this opinion is biased in the opinion of some, the fact is that every state gives the students multiple chances to pass the exam. Some students even begin taking the test in Spring of the 8th grade year.
Ironically, some of the biggest supporters of the exam are students who have received their diplomas by passing it. One news report reads, "They want the exams, as well, because it validates the formula that they worked so hard to achieve" (O'Reilly, n.d.). The meaning is that once students have felt the threat of not graduating if they can't pass the exam, and then they do pass it, they are more likely to feel like everyone else who works hard should pass the exam, too.
The fact that people want students in high school to begin taking