Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang report that half the states (with 70 percent of the nation’s students) have some kind of high school exit exam. The hope, of course, is that exit exams will force schools to teach to an acceptably high level and that students will rise to the challenge and become better educated. One fear is that students who would otherwise have earned a high school diploma without having earned themselves a high school education will now earn neither, and that missing out on the diploma will hurt them in later life.
Baker and Lang looked at the data. They took account of the fact that states instituted exit exams in different years in a way that let them filter out all the other changes going on in education. Here’s what they found that high school exit exams do:
- Exams that require high school level content reduce graduation rates, but only by one percentage point. (Even the one percent is partially offset by more GEDs.)
- Incarceration rates rise by 0.2 percentage points. That’s a notable increase, since it’s a 12.5 percent increase over the baseline.
- Nothing much happens to wages or employment.
My reading of the Baker and Lang evidence is that the post-graduation effects of exit exams are small, and both proponents and opponents might best focus on what the exams do directly to the educational process.