Wednesday, April 22, 2009


THE STUDY: Effects of the California High School Exit Exam on Student Persistence, Achievement, and Graduation

Sean F. Reardon
Allison Atteberry
Nicole Arshan

Stanford University
Michal Kurlaender
University of California, Davis
April 21st, 2009

The Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice
@ Stanford University

This study, released April 21, 2009, provides the most detailed analysis of the effects of the California High School Exit Exam to date.  The study finds that the policy has lowered the graduation rates of low-achieving students of color and of girls by 15-20 percentage points.  Moreover, the policy has had no positive effect on students' academic achievement.  

Press Release (April 21, 2009) Press Release (April 21, 2009)

Executive Summary Executive Summary

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By Connie Llanos Staff Writer Los Angeles Newspaper Group | Daily News

April 22, 2009 -- California's high school exit exam, which students must pass to receive a diploma, has led to a plunge of more than 30 percent in the graduation rates of low-performing female and minority students since it was introduced, according to a study released Tuesday.

"We estimate that about 20,000 students who would have graduated before this policy was in place did not get diplomas, and an overwhelming majority of them are minority students - that is something we should all be worried about," said Sean Reordan, associate professor of education at Stanford University and the author of the study.

The Stanford study compared graduation rates and test scores from similar 10th- and 11th-grade students in four large urban school districts - Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco and Fresno - before and after the California Exit Exam was established as a requirement in 2005.

The study, the first to measure the effects of the exit exam on graduation and student achievement, shows that graduation rates fell 34 percent among low-performing females, 36 percent among black students and an average of 31 percent among Latino and Asian students.

Los Angeles Unified School District students were not included in the study, but its authors said the findings could be applied to all urban school districts in the state.

State education officials and L.A. Unified officials defended the exam, known as CAHSEE, saying it ensures all students leave high school with a basic skill set.

"The exit exam plays an important role in our work to ensure that a high school diploma has meaning," state schools chief Jack O'Connell said in a statement.

"Passing the exam signifies that a student has critical basic skills that will help them survive in the competitive global economy."

But Reordan said the issue is that students of the same academic level - but of different ethnicities or gender - are not doing as well on the exam, preventing them from culminating high school.

"I think this shows that this exam is not an effective approach to improving student achievement. The test needs to be improved and we need to find other ways of getting student accountability."

The study also states that there is no evidence of an improvement in student achievement - a main goal for implementing the test.

While the study did not include data from Los Angeles Unified, the demographics of the districts studied mirror those of LAUSD, where a majority of students are minorities. Still, district officials did not feel that the study's findings necessarily apply to LAUSD.

According to the district's data, graduation rates dipped at LAUSD in the 2005-06 school year, but rose again last year, reaching 67 percent in 2007.

Judy Elliott, LAUSD's chief academic officer, said that based on the summary of the Stanford study she did not feel the findings were "earth shattering."

"When you look at grades and test performance there is a real achievement gap between black, brown, white, poor," Elliott said. "There's gaps with the CAHSEE. It's everywhere you look."

Still, Elliott said the exam has forced many students and teachers to raise their expectations.

"If you set the bar low, students will meet it low. If you put it higher, kids meet it higher and so do teachers."


by  Debra Viadero - EdWeek School Research Blog

April 22, 2009 -- A study out today suggests that California's high school exit-exam policy may be doing more harm than good for the state's lowest-performing students—especially those who are young women and students of color.

Implemented with the graduating class of 2006, California's exit test—known as the California Hlgh School Exit Exam or CAHSEE—has been controversial from the start. Proponents hoped the test would spur students to study harder, but opponents, in lawsuit after lawsuit, worried that an unintended consequence of the exams might be a drop in graduation rates among some of the state's most disadvantaged students.

The report posted online today by Stanford University's Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice confirms some of the critics' worst fears. It shows that the exit exam led to an overall decline in graduation rates of 3.6 to 4.5 percentage points in the years after the policy took effect, yet without producing a strong effect on student achievement on other state tests.

Among females in the bottom achievement quartile, graduation rates fell by 19 percentage points after the high-stakes exam policy was put in place. That compares with a drop of 12 percentage points over the same period for male students with similar academic profiles.

Likewise, the poorest-performing black, Hispanic, and Asian-American students saw their graduation rates decline by 15 to 19 percentage points following the enactment of the exit-exam policy. The comparable graduation-rate decrease found among white students, in comparison, was a mere 1 percentage point.

"These are clearly troubling, and no one can be happy with a policy that is having such disproportionate effects," said Sean F. Reardon, the Stanford scholar who led the study. (For a look at what California's chief state school officer has to say about the results, see here.)

Just as intriguing, though, is the researchers' explanation for why the effects hit some groups of students harder than others: They chalk it up to "stereotype threat."

Stereotype threat, you may recall, is the idea that people's test performance can be artificially depressed if they are afraid they will confirm an unflattering stereotype about their racial or gender group by doing poorly. For example, women and African-Americans have been found to do worse on math exams after being asked to write their race or gender on their papers or after being told that their group typically scores low on an exam.

The Stanford researchers said they reluctantly fingered stereotype threat as a culprit in the post-CAHSEE graduation-rate declines after ruling out most other possibilities. Thinking that minority students might be attending schools with poorer resources, for example, they analyzed data for subsets of students in the same schools. The patterns stayed the same. They also eliminated possible bias in the tests themselves as an explanation after reviewing studies on that topic.

But, when the research team examined students' previous scores on other state tests, they turned up some evidence that minority students and women had underperformed on particular sections of the state exit exam. Women fared worse than their earlier performance might have predicted, for example, on the math portion. Asian students did worse-than-expected on English-language arts.

"It's a very specific pattern, so it's hard to explain it based on effort," Reardon says. "That's what persuaded me that there was a stereotype-threat story going on, that we have this other set of tests to compare it to, and they don't show the same pattern."

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