While high school exit exams have fallen out of favor in recent years, the requirement may contribute to less crime, Matthew Larsen, assistant professor of economics, says in a paper published in the summer issue of Education Next.

Passing an exit exam that assesses a student’s overall understanding of their high school education is only required in 11 states as school systems have moved away from the tradition because it pushes some students to to drop out.

“Beyond high-school dropout and graduation rates, exit exams might have other effects on students and communities,” Larsen says in Education Next, a journal of opinion and research about education policy. “While exit exams have come under fire for pushing students at the margins out of high school, my analysis indicates that they have more broadly positive effects on communities than previously understood.”

He found that requiring exit exams decreases arrests by approximately 7 percent, primarily from a decrease in property crimes. When states expand the coursework required to earn a diploma, there is no significant effect on arrests. But when they mandate high-school exit exams, arrest rates fall, Larsen says.

“Students who face an exit exam have 2.2 fewer arrests per 1,000 individuals than those without any exit exams—approximately a 7 percent reduction from the local average,” he says. This effect may be initially surprising given the increased dropout rates associated with exit exams found in prior research. However, exit exams may have far-reaching effects beyond those for the marginal students who are induced to drop out.”

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