examination system. Bishop (1997b) found that, when student demography was held constant, New York did significantly better than other states on the SAT and the NAEP math assessments without experiencing a reduction in high school graduation rates. Bishop attributes these results to the presence of the rigorous Regents examinations that many New York students take prior to graduation.10
Virginia is in the process of implementing an end-of-course graduation exam system. Starting in 2004, 12th graders will be required to pass a series of tests—based on Virginia's standards of learning—to earn a standard diploma. Students will be able to earn an advanced studies diploma if they pass additional end-of-course tests. This program also has an accountability component: by 2007, if 70 percent of students in a given school do not pass the exams, the school could lose its state accreditation. The standards of learning, approved in 1995, have won praise from many national experts for their content and rigor.
Virginia's case is an example of standards being introduced well in advance of the high-stakes assessment, providing adequate notice and time to bring tests, curriculum, and instruction into alignment. The large majority of the state's 135 districts have already begun incorporating the standards into their English, math, science, and social studies curricula (Education Week, 1998).
As noted earlier, the rates at which students fail minimum competency graduation exams has declined over the years, in part because states and school districts administer the test early (often in the 10th grade or earlier), provide multiple opportunities for students to retake the test(s) they have failed, and offer remedial education aimed at helping students learn what they need to know to satisfy requirements for graduation. This is sound educational practice; students who fail a high-stakes test should have the opportunity to retake the test, and students who are at risk of failing a graduation test should be apprised of their situation well
Not all students are currently required to take these rigorous exams prior to graduation. This will change in the year 2000, when all graduating students must pass the new Regents English exam. It will be interesting to see if this requirement (with passing scores in additional subjects to be required in subsequent years) affects the high school graduation rate.