Contact IREPP
Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice
Stanford University
520 Galvez Mall, 5th Floor
Stanford, CA 94305
Tel: 650.736.1258
Fax: 650.723.9931
California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE)

A research project to inform California policymakers and district leaders about how students and schools are responding to the high school exit examination in selected districts

A Research Project to Evaluate  the Impact of the California High School Exit Examination  
Sean Reardon, Stanford University
with Michal Kurlaender, University of California, Davis

Project Summary  

The goal of this two-year study is to inform school, district, and state policy and practice regarding the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).  We are interested in providing school districts and policymakers with high-quality empirical evidence regarding:

  1. how students respond to the CAHSEE requirement;
  2. how schools and districts respond to the CAHSEE requirement; and
  3. what school practices may best improve the learning opportunities for students at risk of failing to graduate under the CAHSEE requirement.

Proponents of state high school exit exams suggest that such “high-stakes” tests motivate both students and educators to work harder to ensure pass rates.  Others, however, suggest that such tests may exacerbate inequalities in educational outcomes across racial/ethnic groups and socioeconomic status, largely through increasing the dropout rates of some students who, but for passing this graduation requirement, would remain in school and obtain a diploma. Yet, the degree to which the California High School Exit Exam would lead to any of these outcomes remains an open empirical question.

Specifically, the project will investigate several dimensions of the CAHSEE in four California school districts. First, we seek to answer the following key descriptive questions:

  • Which students are failing which parts of the CAHSEE, and are there systematic differences by key student characteristics (e.g. race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and English Learner status)?
  • Are there differences in pass rates by schools, and do these persist after taking into account key student characteristics?
  • Do pass rates vary by different types of schools—small high schools, charter schools, magnet programs, or other key school characteristics?
  • How are federal, state, and district policies and interventions being utilized to improve pass rates, and are there distinguishable patterns over time?
  • What is the relationship between CAHSEE pass rates and other district and state assessments and specific district graduation requirements?

Project investigators expect that results from this study will be used to inform educational policy in three domains: (1) in the California legislature; (2) in California school districts; and (3) in larger, national education policy discussions.  The project will begin on January 1, 2007 and conclude in December 2008.