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ERIC Number: ED530037
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Aug
Pages: 43
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 48
ISSN: ISSN-2045-6557
To Leave or Not to Leave? A Regression Discontinuity Analysis of the Impact of Failing High School Exit Exam. CEE DP 107
Ou, Dongshu
Centre for the Economics of Education (NJ1)
This paper presents new empirical evidence on whether failing the high school exit exam increases the chance of exiting from high school "prior to high school completion". More importantly, the author discusses the potentially different impacts of failing the High School Exit Exams (HSEE) on students with limited English proficiency, racial minorities and low-income students. This paper also intends to quantify the magnitude to which different testing subjects might affect student dropouts that previous studies have not addressed. The author takes advantage of a new longitudinal data set from the State of New Jersey that captures the most recent changes (i.e. higher standards) in the exit exam. In particular, following Martorell (2004), the author exploits the discontinuity in the likelihood of exiting around the cutoff score of HSEE, and compares the exit probability of the students who barely pass or barely fail the test. Barely-failers will provide the counterfactual outcome for barely-passers since the treatment status will be "as good as randomly assigned" in a neighborhood of the treatment threshold (van der Klaauw, 2002). The author demonstrates that students who barely failed the initial HSEE are more likely to exit high school early than students who barely passed. The difference in dropout probability among those who fail narrowly and those who pass narrowly is larger for racial minority students, economically disadvantaged students and for math tests relative to English tests. The estimates for the first test amount to a large proportion of the raw probabilities of drop out after initial failure of the exam, especially for math. The results are robust when using different functional forms to predict the discontinuity as well as to test the discontinuity in a small neighborhood around the cut-off score. The author's analyses investigate the propensity to drop out for students around the pass/fail cutoff in HSEE. The difference in dropout propensity between the two groups can possibly be due to the psychological effect of failing (a "discouragement effect"), misunderstanding or not being informed of the retest opportunities, or withdrawal because of the high perceived cost of studying for the retests. While there is no causal evidence on the potential benefits of raising educational standards by HSEE, the identified dropouts found in this study suggest that high stakes testing has a potential tradeoff. Schools and policy makers should consider providing counseling services for students who fail initially and better inform these students, especially minority students, about the availability of retest opportunities as well as reduce the stigma of failing HSEE (Cornell et al., 2006). Data construction and variable description are appended. (Contains 8 tables, 2 figures and 48 footnotes.) [Additional funding for this paper was provided by the Campaign for Educational Equity Student Research Grant, the Spencer Research Training Grant and the Policy and Research Fellowship at Teachers College, Columbia University.]
Centre for the Economics of Education. London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE, UK. Tel: +44-20-7955-7673; Fax: +44-20-7955-7595; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Numerical/Quantitative Data; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: High Schools; Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: Department for Children, Schools and Families
Authoring Institution: London School of Economics & Political Science, Centre for the Economics of Education
Identifiers - Location: New Jersey