Background: Over the past several decades, a significant number of states have either adopted or increased high school exit examination requirements. Although these policies are intended to generate improvement in schools, little is known about how high schools are responding to exit testing pressures.
Purpose: This study examined how five low-performing high-poverty high schools responded to the pressures of Texas’ exit testing policy. The goal of this study was to understand how schools responded to the pressures of Texas’ exit testing system (in terms of curriculum, instruction, and supports for low-achieving students) and how educators reconciled those pressures with other accountability pressures that they faced.
Research Design: This study employed qualitative case study design. Five low-performing high schools were sampled within the state of Texas, each of which served large concentrations of at-risk students. A total of 105 interviews were conducted across the five case study sites over the course of 2 years (2008–2009).
Conclusions: This study found that the Texas exit testing policy created a misalignment between educator and student-level accountability, which had particularly negative consequences for struggling students. The findings of this study suggest a need for policy makers to reconsider the assumptions on which exit tests are based and to more closely consider the goal of exit testing systems in the context of, and in relation to, the larger systems of accountability in which they are embedded.