Aug 17, 2009

high stakes exit exams: empirical evidence

The '09 Sept/Oct LD resolution requires the Negative to defend the use of mandatory high school exit exams. There are many ways to make the argument, most of which involve claims about academic rigor (exit exams hold students accountable) or equality (exit exams ensure all students everywhere are meeting standard.) It's therefore highly likely that both sides will look at empirical evidence to make their case.

Unfortunately, we have a dearth of quality evidence of the overall effects of high stakes exit exams in the United States. In an article titled "Exit Exams Harm Students Who Fail Them - and Don't Benefit Students Who Pass Them," published in Phi Delta Kappan in May of '09, John Robert Warren and Eric Grodsky look at all the states that have exit exams, a data set covering 33 years, and compare their students' outcomes to those of students in states with no exit exams.

The overall conclusions--based on data published here--are mixed. Here are a few of the findings.

Academic Achievement
We found no evidence for any effect of exit exams (minimum competency or higher competency) on reading or math achievement at the mean or at any of several cut-points of the achievement distribution. These results hold for 13-year-olds and for 17-year-olds and don't vary across racial/ethnic or social class backgrounds, undermining claims of disparate impact.
So, on the one hand, exit exams don't seem to disproportionately affect minorities (at least in this one respect), a point for the Neg against any Aff arguing that standardized tests are unfair. On the other hand, they're not making any difference in academic achievement, potentially a point for the Aff, at least on defense.

Job Preparation
We use data from the 1980 through 2000 U.S. Censuses and from the 1984 through 2002 Current Population Surveys to evaluate the labor market returns to exit exams (Warren, Grodsky, and Lee 2008). Both data sources include large, nationally representative samples of American young people. We limited our focus to 20- to 23-year-olds with no college education (and along the way we found that exit exams have no bearing on 20- to 23-year-olds' chances of having attended college). Young high school graduates who obtained their diplomas in exit exam states fared no better in the labor market than their peers who obtained their diplomas in other states. These findings held in states with minimum competency exit exams and in states with higher competency exit exams. They also held for students from different racial/ethnic backgrounds.
This is potentially a critical point for the Affirmative. If students who have taken an exit exam are statistically no better prepared for the world of work, perhaps the process is a waste of time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

Dropout Rates
Our analyses indicate that state exit exams reduce high school graduation rates (Warren, Jenkins and Kulick 2006). In states with "minimum competency" exit exams (assessing mastery of material that students should learn before 9th grade), graduation rates decline by about one percentage point. In states with "higher competency" exit exams, graduation rates decline by about two percentage points. Nationally, each percentage point reduction in the graduation rate means about 35,000 fewer young people leave high school with a diploma each year.
The social and economic impacts of dropping out are well documented; one merely has to make the extrapolation to a bleaker economic and social future for those who fail.

It would be unfair to argue that the authors would fall squarely on the Affirmative side of the resolution. As they write,
Exit exam policies are broken, and states should either fix them or get rid of them, but either option requires a political will that is in scarce supply among policy makers and politicians.
Absent junking exit exams, the other option would be to make them more rigorous--in the short term, denying significantly more students their diploma, which, as the authors note, is "now a prerequisite for social and economic success in American society."

Unless they can find an exemplary state that bucks the trend, and use it as a model for the nation, Negatives would be wise to resist any Affirmative attempts to wrestle them into defending the status quo. If Warren and Grodsky are right, there isn't much in the status quo worth defending.

7 comments:

okiedebater said...

Here is a more general piece of evidence from the Educational Research Newsletter. It provides both pros and cons of standardized testing, including high stakes testing.

http://www.ernweb.com/public/892.cfm

DEREK said...

ON THE NEG YOU SHOULD PROBABLY ARGUE AGAINST UTILITARIANISM AND WHY IT IS BAD. ARGUE THAT AMERICA HAS ENACTED LAWS REQUIRING THE YOUTH TO ATTEND SCHOOL IN HOPE OF SPARKING INTELLECTUAL INTEREST IN THE TEENS WHO DECIDE TO DROP OUT. MY ANSWER OF WHAT THE GOAL OF UNITED STATES PUBLIC SCHOOLS IS THAT IF THE SCHOOLS ARE ABLE TO INSPIRE A MAJORITY OF THESE KIDS TO BE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THEIR FUTURE(the current system does not work), AND HOPEFULLY HELP THEM ACQUIRE THE SKILLS THEY NEED TO POSESS TO GET THEM EITHER INTO COLLEGE OR THE WORKFORCE, THEN THEY HAVE ACCOMPLISHED THEIR TASK. ARGUE THAT THE IDEA OF EXIT EXAMS IS PHENOMONAL, AND THAT ITS CURRENT IMPLEMENTATION IS NOT A SUPERIOR METHOD OF CARRYING IT OUT. THE QUESTION THE RESOLUTION POSES IS WHETHER THE IDEA OF A STANDARDIZED EXIT EXAM IS GOOD IN AND OF ITSELF, AND WHETHER PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN THE US SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO PASS THEM TO GRADUATE, AND WHAT THE RESOLUTION DOES NOT POSE IS WHETHER THE USFG IS CURRENTLY IMPLEMENTING THESE SAID STANDARDIZED EXIT EXAMS IN A MANNER THAT WOULD BE CONSIDERED REASONABLE OR BETTER.

Immanuel Kant said...

Don't use caps.

Jim Anderson said...

Now there's a categorical imperative we can all get behind.

Azn Glow said...

@Derek That's certainly an interesting idea. But, I think you'd need to warrant it very well--just the stuff you're saying about "optimism" and "sparking intellectual interest."

How would you impact your arguments?

Infernobones95 said...

the job preperation quote, where exactly is it from. i want to use it but i know as soon as those bronxsci guys see i dont know who its from theyll argue the crap out of the actual author rather than who said it. At the workshop john cruz said it him self.

gstrib said...

If you are a debater this is a very helpful piece.