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State High School Exit Exams and Labor Market Outcomes

In an article published in the January issue of Sociology of Education, John Robert Warren (University of Minnesota), Eric Grodsky and Jennifer Lee (Indiana University) find no evidence that state high school exit exams (HSEEs) positively affect college participation, labor force status or earnings or that the connections between state HSEE policies and these outcomes vary by students’ race/ethnicity or the level of difficulty of state HSEEs.

Since the late 1970s, an increasing number of states have required students to pass statewide high school exit examinations (HSEEs) in order to graduate. States have usually adopted HSEEs in response to the perception that a substantial number of graduates lack skills that are required for success in the modern economy. What do these educational reforms mean for students’ postsecondary economic and labor market prospects? The central hypothesis of the study presented here was that state HSEE policies have the effect of widening gaps in labor force status and earnings between young people who have high school diplomas and those who do not. To test this hypothesis, the authors modeled the association between state HSEE policies and these labor market outcomes
using data from the 1980–2000 U.S. censuses and the 1984–2002 Outgoing Rotation Groups of the Current Population Survey. The results revealed no evidence that state HSEEs positively affect labor force status or earnings or that the connections between state HSEE policies and these outcomes vary by students’ race/ethnicity or the level of difficulty of state HSEEs.