Entrance and Exit Exams—A Thing of the Past for High School and Colleges?

Tahlea Jankoski | Published  March 17, 2017


Are high school exit exams and college entrance exams necessary? More and more states are saying "no" and are changing the high school graduation requirement. Half of the United States considers exit exams as an optional factor for high school graduation and not something that should "make or break" whether or not a student crosses the stage. 

Why are more states getting rid of high school exit exams?

Policymakers and educators who oppose the high school exit exams express that the exams put too much pressure on students and push  students who are already struggling to drop out of high school.  This has been made true for many urban areas that have already struggled with their graduation rates and is one of the factors in determining what qualifies students for graduation.  An example set in Missippi showed that the  test-optional policy being adopted by their schools has been overall beneficial. Dr. John Kelly, Board chairman stated, "This option gives students another way to demonstrate that they have mastered their coursework without making the requirements for graduation contingent upon the outcome of any one particular test. This policy also preserves the ability of districts and schools to continue using SATP end-of-course test results to measure how well students are learning."

What are other alternatives?

Instead of the high school exit exam, more schools have favored the ACT and SAT college entrance exams to help students develop college readiness. Many schools feel that this test serves a dual purpose:  it shows that the student has absorbed and is able to demonstrate skills learned necessary for high school graduation and exemplifies that students have skills necessary to move on to higher education if they so choose to pursue it.  However, as more policymakers throw out high school exit exams in favor of these college entrance exams, there has been rumors  that the elimination of standardized college entrance exams may eventually happen. Many education influencers have argued that the ACT/SAT exam's standardized template is much like a high school exit exam: the scores are done by percentile and on a scale and do not demonstrate effectively what a student knows.

What is the impact of removing entrance exams?

Does bypassing standard entrance exams influence academic performance? Some of those who advocate for getting rid of college entrance exams find that doing so has diversified their pool of college students and doesn't affect academic success. A large study in 2014 found that college entrance exams made no difference in predicting student's university success. Researchers in the study reviewed high school grades and test scores of over 123,000 students at 33 colleges and universities. The data showed that students who had low test scores, but high grades in high school received better grades in college when compared to students with low high school grades and high test scores. 

What major universities have implemented this movement?

Among the universities who have implemented a test-optional policy for entrance exams is George Washington University. Laurie Koehler, George Washington's senior associate provost for enrollment management stated, "The test-optional policy should strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool and will broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households." 

While it may sound great, researchers at the University of Georgia found that universities advocating for a test-optional policy aren't making as huge strides in student diversity as the may think. The researchers suggested that it may be more of a way for colleges to promote their institution and loses sight of their original purpose. How so? Attracting more applicants who either didn't do well or didn't take college entrance exams actually lowered the acceptance rate of some colleges and universities and made the institutions look more selective.

What does the future hold?

It is too soon to tell but as more high schools and universities establish a test-optional policy, it could change the educational landscape for using standardized testing to predict academic success. Test optional policies continue to bring up more questions on college readiness determination, but as Common Core standards and STEM initiatives grow and influence examination, more students will have the opportunity to prove that they are ready for academic success. 




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