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In high school, higher standards lead to higher dropout rates

Published: Monday, July 28 2014 11:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, July 29 2014 7:14 a.m. MDT

A student studies hard to complete graduation requirements.

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New graduation requirements are credited for the increased class of 2014 dropout rates.

In an effort to prepare students for the demands of college, many high schools have added requirements for graduation. However, according to a study released July 15, these efforts are doing just the opposite.

Dropout rates for the class of 2014 have risen three points from 8 to 11 percent in one year. This increase is attributed to both new exit exams and more math and science requirements.

“Obviously, it is important for students to be prepared to complete rigorous coursework in college,” Sarah D. Sparks of Education Week said, “but if students never manage to get to college it's a bit of a moot point.”

The long-term effects of the increased dropout rate are expected to be costly for more than the individuals. Arizona Education News reported an estimated $7.6 billion cost for the state over the lifetime of just this year’s dropouts. This number includes everything from government benefits that’ll likely go to those who don’t graduate to the restricted financial mobility that comes from limited job opportunities.

“Finishing high school provides students with something far more valuable than photos and memories,” Anne Hyslop, the researcher behind “The Case Against Exit Exams,” said. “It is a prerequisite for life-long economic stability. Without a high school degree, college—let alone the federal financial aid to pay for it—is off the table. And good luck trying to get a well-paying job, or any job, as a high school dropout.”

The new courses are connected to the Common Core standards established in 40 states, whereas the exit exams do include material from Common Core but are only found in 24 states.

“Many analysts expected student performance on state exams would initially drop,” Education Week’s Caralee Adams said. This is because “the first wave of students will not have had sufficient instructional time with the new curriculum.”

But the class of 2014 will not be the last group to not have enough time with the curriculum to perform well on exit exams. Consequently, three of the 24 states with exit exams have said they will drop the exams, but want to further consider keeping the increased number of required classes for graduation.

“Some states are considering strategies to minimize the risk to students during the transition, such as phasing in new requirements gradually or only using the results from lower-level subjects as exit exams, and setting one cut score for graduation and a higher one for readiness,” Adams said. “But, adjusting the exit exams to ensure students can graduate from high school would counteract efforts to "increase rigor and student achievement.”

EMAIL: nshepard@deseretnews.com Twitter: @NicoleEShepard

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