Special Populations: Inclusion of English Language Learners in Exit Exams
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Special Populations: Inclusion of English Language Learners in Exit Exams

Why does it matter? Students whose first language is not English need to attain skills and knowledge at a level that allows access to postsecondary education and/or fulfilling careers.

More than half of all states require high school students to pass an exit exam as a condition of obtaining a standard diploma.

Highlights:

  • Twenty-six states apply this requirement to English language learner (ELL) students, with six of those states currently allowing ELL pupils the option of passing an alternate exit exam or evaluation to achieve a diploma.
  • Two states - Minnesota and New Mexico - offer ELL students an exit exam waiver, and Indiana has waiver options available to any student.
  • Utah requires that all students simply attempt the exit exam at least three times, but not actually pass it to obtain a diploma (the diploma will note if the exam was passed or not).
  • Although California and Washington allow exemptions from state assessments if requested by the student's parent(s) or guardian(s) in writing, the requirement that an ELL student pass the state exit exam or an alternate exam/evaluation for a diploma still applies.
For more information on the impact of exit exams on ELL students, see the 2005 edition of the annual Center on Education Policy report on exit exams - in 2005, the authors chose inclusion of ELL pupils as the special focus of this annual report.

Sources for all data points are accessible through this link.

Last updated: June 4, 2007

Research conducted by Timothy Taylor and Michael Colasanti. Please contact Jennifer Dounay Zinth at 303.299.3689 or jdounay@ecs.org with comments or questions about this database.


How are English language learners addressed in exit exams?
Alabama ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Alaska ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Arizona ELLs may be waived from passing exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Any student who fails to achieve a passing score on a competency test required for graduation during the 2006-2007 school year may graduate if the student meets the alternative graduation requirements outlined under law, which include the following: The student has completed with a passing grade all coursework and credits required for graduation; the student has taken the state assessment each time the test was offered when the student was eligible to take the test after August 12, 2005, and; the student has participated in any academic remediation program available in the student's school in those subject areas where the pupil failed to achieve a passing score on the state assessment. If a student fails to meet either or both of the last two requirements, the student may appeal to the local district governing board to waive the requirement(s) if certain criteria are met.
Arkansas ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
California ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Test administration may be deferred for up to 24 months.
Colorado State does not have exit exam
Connecticut State does not have exit exam
Delaware State does not have exit exam
District of Columbia ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Florida ELLs must pass exit exam or alternative test or other measure to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: A senior that has attempted the exit exam a total of three times without earning a passing score can graduate by receiving a score comparable to the exit exam passing score on the ACT or SAT.
Georgia ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: ELLs may receive appropriate accommodations based on their needs and the specifications of their ELL Testing Participation Committee plan.
Hawaii State does not have exit exam
Idaho ELLs must pass exit exam or alternative test or other measure to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: All students must achieve a proficient or advanced score on the High School Idaho Standards Achievement Test in order to graduate. A student enrolled in a Limited English Proficient (LEP) program for three academic years or less who does not attain at least a proficient score prior to graduation may appeal to the local school board, and, at the discretion of the local school board, may be given an opportunity to demonstrate proficiency of the achievement standards through some other locally established mechanism. All locally established mechanisms used to demonstrate proficiency shall be forwarded to the Idaho State Board of Education for review and information. The measure must be aligned at a minimum to tenth grade state content standards. In 2008 this exemption will no longer be permitted.
Illinois State does not have exit exam
Indiana ELLs may be waived from passing exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: If a student does not pass the Graduation Qualifying Examination (GQE), the GQE graduation requirement can be met by fulfilling the requirements of any of the following: the GQE Core 40 waiver; the GQE Evidence-based waiver; the GQE Work-readiness waiver.
Iowa State does not have exit exam
Kansas State does not have exit exam
Kentucky State does not have exit exam
Louisiana ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Accommodations are permitted provided they are used in the students' classroom instruction and assessment.
Maine State does not have exit exam
Maryland ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Students entering grade 9 in the 2005-2006 school year or later must pass the Maryland High School Assessments (HSA) to obtain a high school diploma. Appropriate accommodations for the HSA identified by the ELL Committee are permitted for students who meet the criteria for an ELL program. Accommodations must be justified and documented in the students’ records. Only accommodations that the student receives during instruction may be used in the testing situation.
Massachusetts ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: A Spanish-speaking ELL student in grade 10 who has been enrolled in school in the continental U.S. for fewer than three years may choose to take the English/Spanish version of the grade 10 Mathematics test (exit exam requirement) and Mathematics retest if he/she can read and write in Spanish at or near grade-level. Any student that has been identified as an ELL, both current and past, may use an approved bilingual word-to-word dictionary on any MCAS tests, including the grade 10 exit exams. This is the only available accommodation for ELLs, unless the student has a disability.
Michigan State does not have exit exam
Minnesota ELLs may be waived from passing exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Exemptions allowed for ELLs who have been enrolled in school for fewer than three years in a school in which the primary language of instruction is English.
Mississippi ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: ELLs may use allowable accommodations for exit exams.
Missouri State does not have exit exam
Montana State does not have exit exam
Nebraska State does not have exit exam
Nevada ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: ELLs may use allowable accommodations for exit exams. If a students fails to pass the High School Proficiency Examination (HSPE), or exit exam, that student must not be graduated until he/she is able, through remedial study, to pass the HSPE; however, the student may be given a certificate of attendance, in place of a diploma, if the student has reached 17 years of age.
New Hampshire State does not have exit exam
New Jersey ELLs must pass exit exam or alternative test or other measure to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: All students must pass the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA) first administered in grade 11 to obtain a high school diploma. ELLs may take the HSPA with approved accommodations if necessary. Students who do not achieve a certain score on the HSPA or parts of it can take the Special Review Assessment (SRA), which is an alternative assessment that provides students with the opportunity to exhibit their understanding and mastery of the HSPA skills in contexts that are familiar and related to their experiences. The SRA content is linked to the HSPA test specifications in order to ensure that students who are certified through the SRA process have demonstrated the same skills and competencies at comparable levels as students who passed the HSPA. ELLs may demonstrate proficiency in required SRA content areas through completion of the SRA process in their native language and/or in English, with appropriate accommodations. ELLs are eligible to take the SRA in their native language if they meet certain requirements. All SRA students must continue to take the HSPA each time it is administered, including March of their senior year. Although all school districts in New Jersey have adopted a combination of state and local graduation requirements, the decision on whether a student graduates is made by the local school district, pursuant to law and rule. However, the school district superintendent and the high school principal are required to verify that each student’s performance on the SRA meets or exceeds the proficiency level of the state’s graduation assessment. Members of the class of 2010 are the last students eligible to take the SRA language arts literacy assessment, while members of the class of 2012 are the last students eligible to take the SRA mathematics assessment.
New Mexico ELLs may be waived from passing exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Students who have limited English skills as determined by the local education agency's language assessment instrument may be exempted from the statewide testing program, including the high school exit exam, provided all such exemptions are reported to the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED). For students who are exempted, the district should implement alternative assessment methods to determine mastery of content standards. The exit exam is available in a Spanish-language version (only alternate language option).
New York ELLs must pass exit exam or alternative test or other measure to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: ELLs may demonstrate proficiency in mathematics, occupational education, science, and social studies in their native language regardless of the grade during which they entered a school where the predominant language is English by passing an alternative language edition of the required Regents competency tests or Regents examinations in these subject areas, depending on the year of first entry into grade 9. The Regents exams and competency tests in sequential mathematics, course I; mathematics A; biology or living environment; Earth science; global history and geography; and United States history and government are provided in five alternative languages: Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Additional accommodations are available for ELLs. The state has also agreed to stop using its English language proficiency exam as an alternate to the English language arts assessment for certain ELLs, as ordered by the U.S. Department of Education.
North Carolina ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: School districts must provide focused intervention for ELLs until they have met statewide promotion standards and high school graduation requirements (up to age 21). This intervention involves extended, supplemental instructional opportunities that include assistance in the development of English language proficiency. These students shall have personalized education plans with the following components: diagnostic evaluation, intervention strategies, and monitoring strategies.
North Dakota State does not have exit exam
Ohio ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: ELLs are eligible for a temporary one-year exemption from the state reading and writing test, but must take the state English language proficiency exam in its place. However, the provisions of the temporary exemption shall not be interpreted to mean that an ELL is exempted from meeting all proficiency test requirements for graduation. All ELLs are allowed the use of a dictionary and extended time as accommodations on graduation tests. ELLs enrolled in a U.S. school for fewer than three years that are classified at the beginning or intermediate level in reading and writing are also eligible to receive one additional accommodation, including administration of the test in their native language via audio cd or use of an oral translator.
Oklahoma ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: Students in their first year at a U.S. public school are not required to take the state reading test, which includes English II, but must take the state math test. Students identified as ELL are assessed in a valid and reliable manner with the state academic assessments with acceptable accommodations as necessary and, to the extent practicable, with alternate assessments aligned to the state assessment provided by the local school district in the language and form most likely to yield accurate data on what such students know and can do in these content areas. These alternate assessments will continue until such students have achieved English language proficiency. If ELL students are administered the state-mandated reading and language arts achievement tests in a language other than English, this will be allowed only during their first three consecutive years of school attendance in the United States (not including Puerto Rico). After three years these tests must be administered in English, except that if the local school district determines on a case-by-case basis that a student has not yet reached a level of English language proficiency that will allow valid and reliable information to be obtained, even with testing accommodations, individual waivers will be allowed by the local district for up to two additional consecutive years, according to federal law.
Oregon State does not have exit exam
Pennsylvania ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Rhode Island State does not have exit exam
South Carolina ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
South Dakota State does not have exit exam
Tennessee ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: There are no exemptions of ELL students from any state assessments, including the Gateway Examinations (exit exams).
Texas ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: ELL students who first enroll in U.S. schools no more than 12 months before the administration of exit exams may postpone taking the exams one time.
Utah ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: A student who attempts the exit exams three times, but does not pass is still eligible for a modified diploma that notes the student did not pass the exit exams, if all other graduation requirements are met. A student who does not make three attempts to pass the exit exams is only eligible for a certificate of completion.
Vermont State does not have exit exam
Virginia ELLs must pass exit exam to receive high school diploma
Washington ELLs must pass exit exam or alternative test or other measure to receive high school diploma
Notes/Citation: There are three other options for obtaining a high school diploma if a student does not pass the required state assessments after two tries but has met attendance and remediation requirements in his or her Student Learning Plan (created for any student who does not pass the assessments). These include WASL (state assessments)/Grades Comparison; a Collection of Evidence (structured portfolio); and an equivalent score on the PSAT, ACT or SAT. The state will also develop an option for students in industry certificate programs. Parents may also request in writing to exempt their child from state assessments. The request for exemption will not avoid any consequence for not testing, such as failure to graduate.
West Virginia State does not have exit exam
Wisconsin State does not have exit exam
Wyoming State does not have exit exam

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