2007 Spotlight

High School Coursetaking

Requirements and Offerings

State Standards for Exit Exams

Along with course requirements, in 2006, some 22 states required public school students (and, in a few states, private school students4) to pass high school exit examinations to receive a high school diploma (see figure 1) (Center on Education Policy [CEP] 2006). Three more states will adopt such “exit exams” between 2008 and 2012: Washington in 2008, Maryland in 2009,5 and Oklahoma in 2012. Most of these 25 states’ exit exams are aligned with 10th-grade proficiency standards or higher, but some are aligned with 8th- and 9th-grade proficiency standards.

In 2006, some 65 percent of the nation’s public high school students were enrolled in a school with an exit exam requirement (CEP 2006). High school exit exam requirements are most prevalent in the southern and western states. The few exceptions are in Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.

Given this geographic distribution, minority public school students are the group most affected by state exit exam requirements: 76 percent of minority public high school students were required to pass an exit exam for graduation in 2006, compared with 58 percent of all White public high school students (CEP 2006, table 2).

The number of examinations required for graduation and the subjects in which they are required vary by state (see table SA-1). In the 22 states with exit exams in effect and in the 3 states with exit exams that will go into effect between 2008 and 2012, students must pass both an English/language arts and a mathematics exit exam. In addition, 19 of these 25 states will require an exam in science by 2012, and 13 states will require a U.S. history/social studies exam.6

Since 2002, all states with an exit exam have required both an English/language arts and a mathematics exam. The total number of states with a mandatory science exit exam has increased from 7 states in 2002 to 11 states in 2006, and is projected to increase to 19 states by 2012.

4In 2006, nine states had exit examination requirements for some private school students. In several states, these requirements applied to all students in state-accredited private schools; however, in other states, these requirements applied only to specific categories of private school students (e.g., students placed in private schools by school districts or other public agencies) (CEP 2006, table 22). (back to text)

5Maryland's exit examination process was revised in 2004. (back to text)

6North Carolina also has a mandatory test in civics and economics and in computer skills. (back to text)

Figures and Tables

Figure 1: States with mandatory exit examinations, by subject, and states phasing in exit examinations, by date: 2006

Table SA-1: States with mandatory exit examinations, by subject, and states phasing in exit examinations, by date: 2006