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Impeded Attainment? The Role of State Exit Examination-Alternative Route Policy Combinations


by Anne Traynor & Allison E. Chapman — 2015

Background: To allay public concerns that state graduation examination mandates might unfairly hinder some students’ educational attainment prospects, most states with exit exam requirements offer alternative routes to earning a regular high school diploma. In spite of poor public documentation of alternative route usage rates, some exit exam states’ alternative credentialing policies have been linked to their relatively high reported graduation rates. However, there is little empirical evidence that these alternative route policies blunt the reported negative effects of exit exam requirements on diploma attainment in the general student population.

Purpose: We investigate the consequences of several distinct state exit exam-alternative route graduation policy combinations on the subsequent educational attainment of tenth graders in the graduating class of 2004.

Research Design: Data for our study are drawn from the cohort of U.S. tenth graders (N = 13,636) sampled by the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002–2006. We use logistic regression models to estimate the relationships between state exam difficulty-alternative route policy combinations and two educational attainment outcomes: high school diploma acquisition and postsecondary school enrollment.

Conclusions: While we find no relationship between exit exam policies and students’ subsequent postsecondary school enrollment, we conclude that students subject to relatively difficult state exit exams are less likely to earn a regular high school diploma than those not subject to an exam requirement. Estimating our models in the subsample of English language learner students as a model plausibility check, we observe marginally significant, but sizable, negative effects of both minimum-competency and more-difficult exit exams on diploma attainment. Our results suggest that alternative route options neither eliminate, nor appreciably attenuate, more-difficult exit exams’ negative impact on diploma attainment in the general student population or among English language learners.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 9, 2015, p. 1-34
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18071, Date Accessed: 5/25/2017 12:22:33 PM

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About the Author
  • Anne Traynor
    Purdue University
    E-mail Author
    ANNE TRAYNOR is an assistant professor of Educational Psychology and Research Methodology in the College of Education Purdue University. Her research focuses on validation of test score interpretations, educational measurement, and assessment policy. Recent publications have appeared in Structural Equation Modeling and Comparative Education Review.
  • Allison Chapman
    Queen’s University
    E-mail Author
    ALLISON E. A. CHAPMAN is a doctoral candidate in Assessment and Evaluation at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University, Canada. Her research explores the use of formative assessment within secondary mathematics classrooms. Additionally, she has research interests in large-scale testing, standard-setting, and research methodologies. Recently, she co-published (with D. A. Klinger and A. Mills) a book chapter entitled, "School," in The Health of Canada’s Young People: A Mental Health Focus (2011). Allison has presented at the annual meetings of the National Council on Measurement in Education and the Canadian Society for the Study of Education.
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