The accountability movement was established in the sixties

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***(change) The accountability movement was established in the sixties by President Lyndon B. Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The emphasis on accountability was further strengthened by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001. In fact, NCLB's empirical data driven focus requires sanctions to school districts for failure to meet test score requirements (Hollingsworth, 2007). Cortiella (2004) stated that tests which determine a standard for a high school diploma are defined as high-stakes tests because they also have consequences for individual students. Students are held individually accountable for their performance on these types of assessments.

In response to public demands for more highly-skilled high school graduates and the requirement of NCLB legislation, states have developed a variety of policies such as high-stakes exit exams (Johnson, Thurlow, Stout & Mavis, 2007). With this in mind, Amrein and Berliner (2002) have studied "high stakes" accountability as it relates to these statewide exams. They found that student learning was primarily limited to the content of statewide exams in states that attached high-stakes to their testing.

Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and ESEA Title I require inclusion of all students with disabilities in a State assessment system (US DOE, 2003). In addition, the IDEA Amendments of 1997 stipulate that students with disabilities must be included in state and district assessments. This further challenges the 26 states that have implemented these tests to develop policy options to allow participation of these students (Johnson, et al, 2007). Thurlow and Johnson (2000) reported the benefit of special education student participation in high-stakes testing as the assurance of access to general education curriculum. Therefore, students with disabilities are a more-integrated part of the classroom and are no longer left behind. However, students with disabilities may be negatively impacted by high-stakes exams when compared to their non-disabled peers.

Low-Income and Minority Students

Hong and Youngs (2008) stated that increased opportunity for minority and low-income students to obtain academic qualifications must be a quantifiable measure of successful accountability for any high-stakes testing policy. ***(Without this measure of accountability, Clarke, Haney, and Madaus (2000) found that schools with predominantly low-income student populations that administered high-stakes tests in eighth grade reported high dropout rates as early as the tenth grade.) They further reported in 2001 that these high-stakes tests were not an equitable way to assess student progress when considering race, culture, native language, or gender. Therefore, it is no ***(surprise) that their findings showed that minority populations had increased high school dropout rates.

***(ask dr. e)By contrast, in 2002 Carnoy and Loeb reported that high school completion rates in states utilizing high-stakes testing were not significantly lower than those states that did not administer these tests. However, in 2005, Carnoy added to this body of knowledge by revealing that completion rates for low-income students were actually impacted by an education system which prepared them poorly for their entire high school career. The necessary effort and frustration experienced by these students were simply too great to overcome (Carnoy).

English Learners

In 1998, Pedroza reported the lack of sensitivity afforded "intermediate" speakers of English with respect to high-stakes testing policies. He cited the complexity of language experience and the inappropriateness of policies that assume all schools and students are alike. Seven years later, Adam (2005) stated that unlike other subgroups, English learners are still not provided with enough additional support or exam exemptions and are experiencing increases in high-stakes test failure rates.

Motivation and Higher Education

In 2003, Amrein and Berliner reported an increase in students who leave school before graduation coupled with decreased student motivation due to high-stakes testing. Montecel (2004) echoed this claim stating that Texas was not producing higher numbers of graduates or college enrollees due to the high-stakes testing requirement. Contrary to proponent claims, high-stakes tests do not motivate the unmotivated (Clarke and Madaus, 2001).

***(check quote)High-stakes tests are undoubtedly working against closing the achievement gap between the haves and have-nots (Wagner, 2003). According to Amrein and Berliner (2003) enough negative, unintended consequences are attached to high-stakes testing that graduation exams of this nature are questionable. The higher dropout and lower high school completion rates are inevitable, and Reid (2002) cautions of the danger in determining a student's academic performance solely on the basis of these test scores. Noddings (2002) stated it best when he wrote "to have high expectations for each child does not mean that we must hold the same expectations for all children" (p.75). This statement rings true for high-stakes testing, and resonates even louder when considering high school exit exams.

Exit Exams

During the 1970s, colleges and employers increased complaints to policymakers about the lack of adequate preparedness of America's high school graduates. Their claim was that these students lacked the basic skills necessary to ensure their future academic or employment success (Linn, 1998). In response to this need, some states began establishing minimum graduation requirements and increasing the emphasis on basic skills in the classroom. However, most states continued to allow local school districts to control the requirements for receiving a high school diploma, including the administration of exit exams (Linn, 1998).

In 1986, McDill, Natriello, and Pallas reported an early correlation between high rates of exit exam failure and dropout rates. They attributed this trend to the requirements surrounding higher levels of student achievement. The Center on Education Policy reported that American education has been significantly impacted by high school exit examinations (2008). Twenty-six states currently require passage of a high school exit exam to fulfill graduation requirements and receive a diploma. Arkansas, Maryland, Oklahoma will implement this requirement by 2012. The Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) reported that when that happens, 74 percent of America's high school students will be subjected to this requirement. (2008).

Special Education

In line with Sinclair's (1994) "unanticipated consequences," J.Ruth Nelson (2006) studied the intended and unintended consequences of high stakes graduation exams on students with disabilities. She concluded that the tests have had some very positive, but also some negative consequences for students with disabilities, ***(fix this) including increased exposure to the curriculum, increased participation in testing, and raised expectations, but also high levels of anxiety and frustration, and drop-out concerns. Sinclair's (1994) research mirrors these concerns stating that the dropout problem is particularly great among youth with learning or emotional/behavioral disabilities. Gartland and Strosnider (2004) stated that in order to reduce dropout rates and increase high school completion rates, accommodations and modifications must be adhered to when administering high-stakes tests to students with disabilities.

Exit Exams and Demographics

The Center on Education Policy (2008) stated that minority students have felt the greatest impact of exit exams. Barnes (2009) reported that 81 percent of minority students in 29 states will be subjected to high-stakes graduation requirements by 2012. The minority group with the greatest negative impact according to this statistic is black males. However, this research did not significantly reveal that dropout rates were increased or decreased by high school exit exams.

Clarke, Haney and Madaus (2000) also argued that decreased high school completion rates are a direct result of high-stakes graduation tests. However, they too found no clear evidence to support an effect according to race. Additionally, Barnes (2009) identified an increase in the number of minority students who are failing exit exams and dropping out of high school. He further stated that although these exams are fulfilling the accountability requirements of the schools, it is at the expense of those students who are struggling to pass the exams.

White students are not impacted to the degree that minority students are impacted by high-stakes high school exit exams (Amrein and Berliner, 2002). The 26 states that require exit exams have high percentages of low socioeconomic, Hispanic and black students (Amrein and Berliner, 2002; Warren and Edwards, 2003). However, Lillard and Warren (2003) repeated that there are no particular groups of students that are increasingly dropping out of high school due to exit exams. In contrast, Jacob (2001) stated that there is no effect on an average student's decision to drop out of high school due to the exit exam requirement; however, he also determined that low-achieving students who were required to take exit exams had a 25% higher rate of dropping out of high school than comparable students in states that do not have this requirement.

Alternatives to Exit Exams

The Center for Education Policy (2008) reported that all states requiring exit exams allow special education students an alternative route to receiving a diploma. Eighteen states have the same allowance for general education students and three states allow English learners to seek an alternative route to a diploma. However, they claim that these concessions impact a very small percentage of students.

Walden and Kritsonis (2008) urge us to consider the anxiety about failing exit exams that drive some students to drop out and others to feel that there is no alternative if the exam actually is failed. In fact, states requiring high school exit exams have lower high school completion rates which, in turn, produce higher numbers of individuals who attempt the General Education Development test (Glenn, 2006).

Student Achievement

Jacob (2001) reported that student achievement levels were significantly lower in states that required high-stakes graduation requirements than in states that did not impose this requirement. He stated that this fact is in direct conflict with proponents of exit exams who argued that these exams would increase student achievement. Amrein and Berliner, 2002, added that states reporting dropout rate increase were those who had implemented passage of a state exit exam to graduate from high school in addition to increasing student achievement.

Jerald, 2001, found evidence to the contrary in Texas where they claim increases in student achievement. This study determined that dropout rates did not increase due to the implementation of high-stakes tests as a requirement to graduate from high school. In fact, he reported that high school completion rates have been increasing since 1991. However, not every state is seeing this improvement.

California High School Exit Exam

High stakes testing has been a major factor in California public education reform designed to improve school accountability and raise achievement levels in an effort to close the achievement gap (Linn, 2000). However, there is concern that increased emphasis on high stakes testing, such as high school exit exams, may have adverse effects on students such as increased dropout rates (Cuenca, 1991).

The CAHSEE was established in 1999 (California Education Code sections 60850 and 60851) and required all high school students beginning with the class of 2004 to pass the CAHSEE to earn a high school diploma (Garcia & Calhoun, 2002). In July 2003, the State Board of Education made the decision to delay the passage of the exit exam as a graduation requirement until the class of 2006. Although viewed as a reprieve, this decision simply delayed the inevitable challenge that the implementation of NCLB initiated.

CAHSEE and Demographics

In 2008, the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) reported the initial passing rates for the Class of 2010 after the tenth grade CAHSEE administration. The results revealed that pass rates were low for many subgroups. African American and Hispanic pass rates were 52 and 58 percent respectively. Low-income students recorded a 57 percent pass rate, and the two lowest pass rates were recorded by English learners at 29 percent and students with disabilities at 20 percent.

Billinger (2004) studied the effect of demographic characteristics on CAHSEE test scores. Her findings regarding gender roles were consistent with prior research. In English, girls scored better than boys; and in math, boys scored better than girls. With respect to ethnicity, White and Asian students performed better than African American and Hispanic students. Students who spoke English as a first language scored higher than English learners. She further reported that students who participate in college preparatory courses scored higher on the CAHSEE than those students who did not take those courses. Additionally, she tested the effects of athletic program participation and found that it was not a significant indicator of CAHSEE performance.

CAHSEE, Student Achievement and Dropout

Reardon, Atteberry, Arshan and Kurlaender (2009) examined the impact of exit exams on student achievement, student persistence and dropout rates. They found that student achievement did not increase and persistence was actually slightly decreased. The greatest consequence outlined by their research was the negative impact of exit exams on student dropout rates. Reardon, Et al. estimated that school completion rates decreased from 8.1 to 4.5 percent due to the exit exam requirement. They further concluded that the main groups of students impacted by this statistic were female students, minority students and low-achieving students. Reardon, et al. found that these groups fail the CAHSEE at significantly higher rates than their white and male counterparts.

High School Dropouts

"No Child Left Behind federal education requirements around graduation rates are casting a national spotlight on the issue of dropouts"(Montecel, 2004, p. 1). Orfield (2004) reported that only 68 percent of high school students, nationwide, will graduate on time with a regular diploma. Additionally, increased emphasis on high-stakes testing has generated more minority, urban, and poor students to leave high school without receiving a diploma (Smyth, 2006). In a study aimed at finding a solution, Gleason and Dynarski (2002) found that dropout prevention programs do not actually focus on students who are at-risk for dropping out of high school. Therefore, it is imperative that leaders in the field of education are aware of the factors which contribute to high school dropout to ensure the needs of the students are being met.

School Factors Impacting Dropout Rates

In 1993, Crone, Glascock, Franklin and Kochan, found a strong predictive relationship between student attendance and graduation exit exam passage rates. This relationship was also indicative of suspension, expulsion and dropout rates. Their study examined urban secondary schools with low socioeconomic status. Additionally, they found that African American students had better attendance rates than white students. However, this is not consistent with many studies of this nature with respect to minority and poor students. Griffin and Heidorn (1996) found the same results for minority students and added to the knowledge surrounding the negative effects of exit exams imposed upon low-achieving students.

Potter and Wall (1992) found that higher standards, which paved the way for high-stakes testing, provided minimal increases in academic achievement while producing negative effects on some students, especially minority males. Haney (2000) reported that during the first year of high-stakes graduation testing in Texas, graduation rates declined, with a 50 percent greater decline for African American and Hispanic students than other ethnic groups. Many researchers blame high-stakes testing, at least in part, for the increasing U.S. dropout rates (Rothstein, 2002). These results, which highlight the negative consequences of high-stakes testing on dropout rates, are consistent with Shepard (2000), Darling-Hammong (2004), and Hong and Youngs (2008). Additionally, low-achieving students in states requiring high-stakes tests were more likely to drop out than those students in states without high-stakes testing (Jacob, 2001). To emphasize this, Clarke, Haney, and Madaus (2000) reported that of the ten states with the highest dropout rates, nine of them correlate test scores with graduation requirements.

Grade retention is another school factor affecting a students' decision to drop out of high school. Potter and Wall (1992) reported that although high-stakes testing may have slightly increased student achievement, dropout rates did not decrease when student grade retention increased. Allensworth (2004) did a study of students from 1992 to 1998 and found 8 percent and 13 percent dropout rate increases for 17 and 19 year-olds respectively, when retained in a grade during their school career. In 2005, Allensworth performed another study using data from Chicago Public Schools after they had implemented a promotion standard for eighth grade. Although the study yielded negative effects of the policy on dropout rates, they were smaller than those found through traditional retention practices.

Demographics and Dropouts

Walden and Kritsonis (2008) stated that almost all demographic and socioeconomic groups have documented academic student achievement gaps. Yearly, more poor and minority American students disappear from the public school system at a disproportionate rate (Orfield, 2004).

When examining student demographic characteristics, Black and Hispanic students are more likely than White students to drop out of high school (Gleason & Dynarski, 2002) expanding the gap between minority and white students (Miao and Haney, 2004). Mishel and Roy (2006) found similar results in a study they conducted on U.S. high school graduation rates during the 1990s and early 2000s. They found graduation rates for African American students between 69 and 75 percent while Hispanic students had a rate between 61 and 74 percent for the same time period.

Additionally, Pallas (1987) found that students in urban schools have higher dropout rates than students in suburban and rural school settings. Vartanian and Gleason (1999) reported that students living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to drop out of high school than those students who live in wealthier neighborhoods. This statistic is consistent even if the family income of students living in wealthier neighborhoods is low.

Researchers from the National Board for Educational Testing and Public Policy did a study with high school students in Florida and found that moderate grades coupled with a failure to pass the state's exit exam significantly increased dropout rates. Amrein and Berliner (2003) echoed the likelihood of high school dropout after high-stakes test failure even among students with good academic records. A Griffon and Heidorn (1996) study found that students were more likely to drop out of high school after failing an exit exam if they had a high grade point average.

Although there are studies to the contrary, Snyder, in her 2004 dissertation, did not find ethnicity or disability status to be significant predictors of high school dropout. Allensworth (2004) similarly found no significant changes in African American students' dropout rates from 1992 to 1998. However, the Snyder (2004) study did find gender, attendance, grades, retention, family status, and passage rates on end of course tests as significant predictors of high school dropout.

Societal Consequences of Dropouts

Kaplan, Peck and Kaplan (1997) found in their study that students' acceptance and self-esteem were significantly influenced by academic experiences that were negative. In addition to school experiences, the National Research Council (2001) reported on the negative consequences of dropping out of high school and deemed it a major life event resulting in low employment prospects.

According to Harlow (2003) 59 percent of America's federal prison inmates and 75% of state inmates are high school dropouts. They are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than their peers who graduate. In 2003, the Alliance for Excellent Education reported that $1.4 billion in prison costs could be saved with a scant 1% increase in high school graduation rates. In 2006, they reported that $4.9 billion could be saved by a 5% increase in the number of male students who graduate from high school.

In 2007, the USA Today reported that student dropouts will reach 12 million over the next ten years resulting in a potential $3 trillion economic impact. Chaddock (2006) stated it best, when he reported "30 percent of our ninth graders fail to finish high school with a diploma, we are dealing with a crisis that has frightening implications for our future" (p. 3).

In 2003, Chudowsky and Gaylor reported on the limited research that had been done to date with respect to how dropout rates are impacted by exit exams. They criticized the continued policy-making in this area without concrete evidence outlining student consequences and the impact these policies are having on society as a whole.

Dropout Rate Calculations

In 2001, the National Research Council acknowledged the difficulty in accounting for accurate dropout rates due to several factors including data sources and counting methods.

After No Child Left Behind was signed into law in January 2002, the NEA Today (2003) reported the results of a statewide audit refuting the claim by President Bush that the public school system in Texas was the model of accountability. The audit results uncovered students who should have been reported as dropouts were actually recorded in other categories. Walden and Kritsonis (2008) stated that this procedure reported a 1.5 percent dropout rate which in actuality was closer to 40 percent. However, in 2004, Montecel acknowledged that "unacceptably high dropout rates" were a concern long before the current accountability systems were implemented. In line with Montecel, Potter and Wall (1992) reported that the necessity for good data is imperative for researchers to fully comprehend high school completion rates.


With statistics nearing 33 percent of all public high school students and nearly 50 percent of Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans failing to graduate from high school, the consequences are staggering (Bridgeland, Diuilio, and Morison, 2006). The authors explained that these consequences lead to unemployment, poverty, welfare, incarceration, health issues, marital problems, increases in single parenthood and children who eventually drop out of school. They further define this situation as dangerous for public high school students.

In an effort to evaluate the effect of standards-based accountability on educationally disadvantaged subgroups, in 1999 the Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity was created. The main function of this committee was to monitor students that were at higher risk of dropping out of high school than others. Their focus was on potential risk factors such as poverty, limited English speaking ability, minority or disability status. Their basis was that these groups have been at higher risk of dropout for decades (National Research Council, 2001). Given this background, the committee began to look at the impact high school exit exams were having on an already alarming dropout concern.

In 2008, the HumRRO report brought to the forefront significant concern regarding high school dropout rates in California. For the first time, these rates could not be compared to prior years due to the change in dropout accounting procedures implemented in 2007. Hong and Youngs (2008) concurred with these statements adding that the ability to obtain reliable data is difficult due to the variability in the measurement of dropout rates and the plethora of interpretations surrounding them. Gaylor (2005) stated that disagreement over dropout rate calculations is one of the main factors impeding consensus among researchers regarding the effect exit exam requirements are having on dropout rates. Alarmingly, the new procedures reported by HumRRO identified a 24 percent total statewide four-year dropout rate with the Hispanic subgroup recording 30 percent and the African American subgroup recording 42 percent. As noted by the National Research Council (2001) these are groups that were already exhibiting dropout rates that were higher than the average.

Chudowsky and Gaylor (2003) recommended further research in the form of longitudinal studies with respect to dropout rates and exit exams to add good information to the body of knowledge being used to establish policies. Bridgeland, Et al. (2006) and Powell (2009) informed us that high school dropouts do not comprise a homogeneous group. In 2002, Gleason and Dynarski agreed that composite risk factors more accurately portrayed a dropout scenario than single risk factors did.

In 2009, Reardon, Atteberry, Arshan, and Kurlaender made an important distinction when they stated that the effects of failing exit exams fall solely on the students, not the districts or the schools in the current state of educational accountability. Dropout rates in the U.S. are a serious concern (Smyth, 2006) and imminent action must be taken to understand the predictors leading to these student choices in order to influence policy that will positively impact the future of California's public school students.