Number Of States Requiring Tests For High School Graduation Plunges to EIGHT – Lowest Count Since Mid-1990s


Harry Feder   (917) 273-8939

Bob Schaeffer   (239) 699-0468 

for immediate release Thursday, January 5, 2023

As public-school students return to their classrooms after the holiday break, a new national tally finds that only eight states will require current high school seniors to pass a standardized test to receive a diploma. The number of jurisdictions requiring graduation tests or exit exams has dropped sharply from a high of 27 in the mid-1990s, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) which conducted the analysis.

FairTest Executive Director Harry Feder explained, “Increasingly policymakers have recognized that standardized test hurdles for high school graduation do not improve overall educational outcomes. Instead, they harm thousands of young people who either drop out after failing an exit exam or are forced out of school without high school diplomas despite completing all their classroom work.” Multiple studies show that adults without a diploma are less likely to be employed or have a stable family but are more likely to be imprisoned.

Feder added that there is a civil rights impact from grad-test policies. “Individuals with disabilities, English language learners, members of disenfranchised populations, and students from low-income families are far more likely to be denied diplomas for not passing these exams.” A recent Brown University study confirmed that states that require exit exams for graduation have seen an associated increase in drop-out rates among those population groups. In Louisiana, which had an exit exam in 2019, 80 percent of all students earned a diploma, but only 41 percent of English learners graduated. When the state waived its testing requirement the next year due to the pandemic, the graduation rate for English learners increased significantly from 41 percent to 48 percent.  

Graduation testing requirements serve no useful purpose while undermining educational quality, according to FairTest’s Feder. “Untested subjects are downplayed. Classes in tested subjects concentrate on the exams. Since tests are primarily multiple-choice, teachers are forced to focus on rote learning rather than encouraging students to think and apply their knowledge. They are not real measures of college or career readiness.”

“The truth is that there are much better ways to assess learning and student achievement, to determine whether students meet the criteria to graduate and to infuse a high school diploma with actual meaning.” Feder concluded. For example, instead of taking pencil-and-paper tests, schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium ask students to complete performance assessment tasks to demonstrate their mastery of state content standards. Before joining FairTest last year, Feder taught history for more than two decades in New York Performance Standards Consortium public schools. 

Other states that have recently dropped exit exam requirements, like New Mexico, allow students to demonstrate graduation-level competencies in a variety of ways, including rigorous portfolio projects. “The replacement of standardized tests with assessments that allow students to show real-world and critical thinking skills is an encouraging trend,” noted Feder.

The eight states that still have graduation tests for the high school class of 2023 are: Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming.

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–  For more details, see FairTest’s fact sheet Graduation Test Update: States That Recently Eliminated or Scaled Back High School Exit Exams.