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Report: To save Common Core, New York should rethink high school tests

With high schools bracing for the next phase of New York’s already-turbulent rollout of Common Core learning standards, a new research brief says the state should also be rethinking its graduation requirements.

New York is one of 24 states that requires students to pass exit exams in order to graduate from high school. To earn a Regents diploma, students need to score 65 or higher on five core-subject exams.

But there is scant evidence that requiring those exams lifts student achievement, and the exams, once aligned to the Common Core standards, would actually hurt the implementation of the new standards, according to researcher Anne Hyslop of the New America Foundation.

The reason is that states won’t have the stomach to hold all students accountable to the higher standards by not allowing them to graduate if they don’t pass the tougher tests.

“Because states cannot – and will not – suddenly deny high school degrees to large numbers of students, particularly those who are already at-risk and furthest behind, states will likely dilute the rigor of the college-and career-ready benchmark if meeting that score is tied to graduation requirements,” writes Hyslop in The Case Against Exit Exams.

New York has already begun to grapple with the issue. In June, students began taking Common Core-aligned tests for the first time, but it will take another eight years before students need to pass them to graduate. The decision to delay those requirements came six months after new Common Core-aligned tests in lower grades resulted in huge increases in students who failed.

Hyslop credits New York for its delay, but argues it doesn’t go far enough and that graduation should never be contingent on exit exams.

“In short, typical students do not appear to be any better off after the exit exam policy, and those that were already vulnerable, including low-income and minority students, often became more so,” she writes.

Hyslop doesn’t say that testing show have no role. Her solution is to use the exams as a portion of students’ final course grades instead of as a graduation requirement. Additionally, she said states could add positive consequences for high scores, such as financial aid or scholarship opportunities.

The full report is below:

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