Last year--the first that seniors in California were required to pass a high-school exit exam in order to graduate--the number of dropouts spiked in the state. According to the Associated Press, that fact "could give ammunition to lawmakers and others who have criticized the exam." But it's worth noting that until now, the majority of America's dropouts left school not because they couldn't do the work, but because it's boring to them or seems like a complete waste of time. By adding an exit exam, by demanding at least some academic rigor from high schoolers, California may well encourage some bored, at-risk students to stay in school. Unfortunately, an exit exam will also encourage those who won't do the basic academic work (or can't) to leave, too. There should be a safety net for such students; perhaps those who remain in high school but don't pass the exit exam could earn a "certificate of completion." But if we want a high-school diploma to mean something we have to demand that it means something.
"California Dropouts Spike in First Year of Exit Exam," by Juliet Williams, Associated Press, November 8, 2007