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Educational policy analysis archives
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Educational policy analysis archives.
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High-stakes testing and the history of graduation / Sherman Dorn.
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1 of 29 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 11 Number 1January 1, 2003ISSN 1068-2341 A peer-reviewed scholarly journal Editor: Gene V Glass College of Education Arizona State University Copyright 2003, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES .Permission is hereby granted to copy any article if EPAA is credited and copies are not sold. EPAA is a project of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory. Articles appearing in EPAA are abstracted in the Current Index to Journals in Education by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation and are permanently archived in Resources in Education .High-Stakes Testing and the History of Graduation Sherman Dorn University of South FloridaCitation: Dorn, S. (2003, January 1). High-Stakes t esting and the history of graduation, Education Policy Analysis Archives 11 (1). Retrieved [date] from /v11n1/.AbstractAn historical perspective on high-stakes testing su ggests that tests required for high school graduation will have mixed results for the putative value of high school diplomas: (1) graduat ion requirements are likely to have indirect as well as direct effects o n the likelihood of graduating; (2) the proliferation of different exit documents may dilute efforts to improve the education of all students; and (3) graduation requirements remain unlikely to disentangle the gen eral cultural confusion in the U.S. about the purpose of secondar y education and a high school diploma, especially confusion about whe ther the educational, exchange, or other value of a diploma is most impor tant.Introduction


2 of 29With the ascension of George W. Bush to the preside ncy, the scripting of national education policy debates has become more predictabl e. In the first week of his term, Bush proposed the same set of policies he had advocated or tacitly supported while governor of Texas, including more reliance on standardized test ing to judge schools and government support for private (including parochial) schooling During the 2000 campaign, he touted Texas's reform record in education as evidence of h is competence in education policy. However, the details of education policies focusing on testing have become murkier, not clearer, in individual states. One issue in which d ebate over high-stakes testing has not settled down has been in the area of graduation tes ting. In the past two years, the failure of a federal court case against the Texas graduation t est requirements, the publication of one expert witness's research on Texas, and two RAND Co rporation studies that analyzed test scores from Texas have increased academic and civil -rights scrutiny of high-stakes testing as a gatekeeper for high school graduation ( GI Forum v. Texas Education Agency 2000; Grissmer, Flanagan, Kawata, & Williamson, 2000; Han ey, 2000; Klein, Hamilton, McCaffrey, & Stecher, 2000; National Research Counc il, 2001). Texas's state policies have passed judicial—but perhaps not broader—tests. Various other state education agencies have retreated from fast implementation sc hedules for higher-stakes tests, especially as high failure rates have attracted att ention. Lisa Keegan, Arizona's former superintendent of schools, was notable in shifting her ground several times as parents questioned the validity of test results, especially their weak connection to what schools may have taught the tenth graders subject to the te sting (Kossan, 2000) and to skills used by the workforce (Glass & Edholm, 2002).The academic and legal debate over graduation tests may well seem like deja vu to those who remember implementation of minimum competency t ests in the 1970s and early 1980s ( Debra P. v. Turlington 1981, 1983; Linn, 2000; Madaus, 1983; McDill, Nat riello, & Pallas, 1985, 1986; Pullin, 1981; Salganik, 1985; Turlington, 1985). The "script," so to speak, is familiar. As was the case with minimum co mpetency tests, advocates of graduation tests today argue that one must test pot ential students to ensure that a high school diploma "means something." As in the 1980s, others are concerned that graduation tests are a substantial barrier to education that e ncourages dropping out, with differential impacts on poor and minority children. As in the 19 80s, whether existing data can be used to answer the empirical questions about the impact of graduation tests is doubtful. And, as in the 1980s, one major federal court case left the test requirement in a large state essentially intact.To an historian, the debate over high-stakes gradua tion tests is a recent phenomenon that can only take place because the majority of teenage rs graduate. The contemporary concern with the consequences of high-stakes testing on gra duation could not have existed a century ago. Few students attended high school, gra duation was not expected of teenagers, and although American utopian writer Edward Bellamy had coined the expression "to drop out" of school, it would not become the domina nt form of describing those who leave school until the 1960s (Dorn, 1993; Dorn & Johannin gmeier, 1999). In the past forty years—but not before—educational researchers and ad ministrators have written about dropping out as a serious social problem. In the pa st few years, some have renewed debate about the equity concerns with high school graduati on, specifically with high-stakes graduation tests (e.g., Haney, 2000; National Resea rch Council, 2001). What is notable is the apparent contradiction between the putative nat ional goal of increasing the likelihood of graduation, on the one hand, and the increasing high stakes of standardized testing as


3 of 29the mechanism used for both student and school acco untability in many states. This paradox has its roots in the history of high school s in the twentieth century and changing expectations for teenagers.Three topics are important in tying together the hi story of high school graduation and contemporary high-stakes testing policies. First is the statistical evidence about broad trends in high school attendance and graduation, in sofar as sociologists, demographers, and historians have gathered them. The likelihood o f teenagers graduating from regular high school programs increased dramatically in the first two thirds of the century but has stabilized since. Second is a discussion about the proliferation of diplomas. Apart from the debate over the value of the GED, there has been li ttle discussion not only on the growing differentiation of diplomas but also on how that di fferentiation fits into the larger history of secondary and higher education in the U.S.. Scho ols are, for better or worse, more prepared to make additional distinctions in program s and diplomas than they are to prepare most children for a single credential. Last is an analysis of how public policy discussion of dropping out reflects the relatively new expectation of graduation. That new norm is the latest form in which we place our expec tations for schooling more broadly. Our assumption that schools should solve social pro blems has colored popular images of dropouts, continues to shape official dropout polic ies, and explains why the debate about dropping out has, historically, omitted key issues.The history suggests several general conclusions ab out the relationship between high-stakes testing and graduation patterns. First is how dropping out may be larger as an indirect than as a direct effect of high-stakes tes ting. A complex web of influences shapes entrances into and exits out of school as well as e ngagement with learning. One of these factors known to historians of education is the rec iprocal relationship between labor-market participation and school attendance, a nd it is this type of push-and-pull relationship that high-stakes testing may affect. I f barriers to grade promotion result in a large group of students who are clearly unable to g raduate from high school by 19 years of age (when the majority of their age peers have alre ady graduated and left high school), other opportunities (primarily work) will beckon st rongly. The second reasonable conclusion from this history is that this proliferation in diplomas, whether at the secondary or tertiary level, may mas k continuing inequalities in educational opportunity. There seem to be many opportunities to earn degrees in various ways, at various times in life. And, because of the high pro portion of the population attending college at some point in life, one might claim that high school graduati on is merely an intermediate step in formal schooling. It is, one m ight say, just on the way to something that has a larger payoff, in the same way that comp leting eighth grade has ceased to be meaningful for most students' long-term future. How ever, because the high school degree is still a prerequisite for more advanced formal sc hooling, one must still pay attention to it as a gateway for schooling in adulthood as well as direct labor-market consequences of raising barriers to high school graduation.Third, the history of dropping out, both as demogra phy and as a public policy concern, suggests the difficulty of disentangling key issues Can the public intelligently discuss the potential values of a high-school diploma when Nort h American society has conflated them for almost forty years? We have inherited a le gacy of viewing dropping out primarily as a problem of human capital, ignoring the issue o f credentialism; a problem of future dependency, diminishing the equity problem; and a p roblem of individual psychology, effacing the broader social factors which Rumberger (1987, 1995), among others, has


4 of 29described over the years; and a problem whose solut ion is less important than establishing the "worth" of a credential, overlooking how the tw o are intimately bound together. Open public debate should honestly face the dilemmas of a popular education in a high-stakes testing environment, even if the barriers to such d ebate are massive (Cremin, 1989). In part, we have difficulty distinguishing the rela tive importance of the education credential as an exchangeable result (for more scho oling or better work), on the one hand, and the knowledge and skills a student can take fro m education to use directly, on the other. We have inherited, from the twentieth-centur y history of educational development and debate about schooling, an assumption that the value of a diploma is or should be synonymous with the knowledge and skills a student presumably gains from schooling. With the first concerns about dropping out as a soc ial problem in the 1960s came statistical evidence about how much more graduates earn than dropouts (Dorn, 1996). The existence of alternative explanations—the potential for credentials to sort labor queues, for example, or preexisting advantages that correla ted both with educational attainment and also adult labor-market success—remained obscur e or invisible. Over the same century, institutions of secondary and higher educa tion have invented more and more ways to differentiate education, either implicitly throu gh tracking and the creation of selective institutions or explicitly through different degree s. The last fifteen years have witnessed an expansion in high-school exit documents, and whethe r this is a unique moment in the history of the diplomas as such, it fits into the h istorical pattern of differentiation to solve the pressures on schools as institutions. High scho ols and colleges have tried, over the past century, both to grant more access and also to gain the institutional rewards of restricting access to the most valued credentials. Their soluti on—differentiation—suggests how strongly our society pushes schools to achieve both ends, perhaps at the cost of clarity about the fundamental purposes of schooling.NumbersResearchers across social science disciplines have come to very similar conclusions about the pattern of earning high school diplomas over th e past century. Though some of the details vary among the authors, there is general ag reement about the following broad trends:The Twentieth Century has witnessed... increased high school graduation rates over the fir st two-thirds of the twentieth century, and stabilization since; decreased racial/ethnic and gender gaps in graduati on during general increasing graduation, but persisting racial gaps since; growth in alternative credentials in the past sever al decades, and different rates in earning alternative credentials by various populati on groups; and persistent socioeconomic influences on graduation. The crucial questions for determining the fairness of testing as a gatekeeper for academic diplomas revolve around why these patterns have dev eloped and the theoretical potential for high-stakes tests to magnify continuing inequal ities of educational opportunities. In particular, the reciprocal relationship between lab or-market participation and school attendance is of particular note for how work may b ecome more and more attractive as teenagers think of themselves as further away from high school graduation.


5 of 29Broad TrendsAt the beginning of the twentieth century, fewer th an one of every ten adolescents graduated from high school. Today, roughly seven of every ten teens can expect to earn a diploma through a regular high school program (Gold in, 1999; Snyder & Hoffman, 2002). The increase, occurring in the first seven decades of the twentieth century, represents a dramatic change in the educational attainment of ch ildren in the United States. While elementary schooling was widespread in the nineteen th century, attendance was sporadic, and a minority attended (let alone graduated from) secondary schools. Today, formal schooling dominates children's daily lives as a par t of growing up, and as a part of dominant beliefs about succeeding as adults. First, most children attend formal schools regularly, and as a result, schools circumscribe th e lives and concerns of most families who schedule vacations with the school calendar in hand and who plan their daily lives around school schedules. Second, children attend sc hool through most of their childhood. In contrast to the patterns of one hundred years ag o, when children typically left formal schooling in their early teens, most children today attend school until they are legal adults. Third, schooling as a route to economic and social success has become part of the American belief in the existence of inequality with out social classes (DeMott, 1990; Ossowski, 1963). Most children would agree, as woul d most adults, that a good education is a requirement for a good job. Few would have agr eed with such a statement in 1890, even though elementary schooling had become an acce pted, politically popular part of childhood in the nineteenth century (Katznelson & W eir, 1985). The expansion of secondary education has coincided with a growing ra tionale of schooling as a way to improve students' future job prospects (Kantor, 198 3). Figure 1 (which overlays data from three different sources by birth cohort (Note 1) illustrates both the broader trend and the two sign ificant exceptions to this pattern of increasing graduation: the decrease in graduation a t the end of World War II and the stability in graduation from regular high school pr ograms over the past several decades. The ratio of high school graduates to 17-year-olds rose to 0.70 for the cohort born in 1943 (and graduating in 1960 or shortly afterwards), and has remained approximately at or above 0.70 since. But the ratio had declined from 0.51 for those born in 1925 to 0.43 for those born in 1927 and 0.47 for the 1929 cohort bef ore returning to 0.53 for the 1931 cohort—corresponding to a dip in graduation between 1942 and 1948, the period when those cohorts would have reached 17 years of age (G oldin, 1999, p. 63). This pattern mirrored decreases in high school attendance during World War II (Snyder, 1993). Because the drop included females as well as males (though it was more precipitous for males), military service cannot entirely explain th e temporary shift; teens left school primarily to work during the war (Goldin, 1998). Mo re recently, the likelihood of graduating from regular high school programs—as opp osed to alternative credentials such as through the General Educational Development (GED ) test—has remained fairly stable (with a slight decrease) over the past three decade s or more, in contrast to the prior dramatic increase. The self-reported graduation pro portions (reported by the Census Bureau) are higher than ratio of diplomas to 17-yea r-olds, a series which has decreased slightly since the cohorts born in the mid-1950s.


6 of 29 Figure 1. Twentieth Century U.S. Graduation Rate By Birth Cohort and Data Source (The data for Figure 1 may be downloaded in the for m of an Excel worksheet.) ) During the increase in graduation before those born in the 1950s, three types of gap in the likelihood of graduating shrank dramatically: by ra ce, geographic region, and gender. According to Dorn (1996), the white-nonwhite differ ence in having high school credentials by 20-24 year olds shrank from a 34 per cent absolute gap in 1940 to a 13 percent gap in 1980. Other research (Jaynes & Willi ams 1989; Kaufman, Alt, & Chapman, 2001) confirms the shrinking racial gap in high school graduation. Some of that difference early in the century came from the conce ntration of African Americans in the South before World War II. Goldin's data (1999) sho w that while whites in the Southern census divisions had better graduation rates than t he regional population as a whole, Southern whites were still less likely to graduate than those from other regions through the mid-1950s. Multivariate analysis shows that both re gion and race became less important, in themselves, in determining who graduated by the last third of the century, but both had independent associations with the odds of graduatin g earlier (e.g., Dorn, 1996; Featherman & Hauser, 1976). The relative influence of gender has also dwindled. In 1910, 93,000 females graduated, as opposed to 64,000 male s, almost a 3:2 ratio. As high school graduation became far more common, boys began to ca tch up with girls in basic educational attainment. In 1970, 1.46 million femal es graduated, in contrast to 1.43 million males. In 1991, for the first time since th e federal government began collecting records on high school graduation, more males gradu ated than females (by an estimated 3,000 out of more than 1.2 million for each sex) (G oldin, 1999, pp. 63-64).


7 of 29A racial gap persists in regular high school gradua tion, though, in terms of absolute percentages (Dorn, 1996; Kaufman et al., 2001). Thi s gap parallels, to some extent, concerns about declines in the fortunes of African Americans in higher education in the 1980s (Jaynes & Williams, 1989). Given the greater likelihood of minority children being poor, perhaps one can explain this continuing gap a s an indirect effect of persistent socioeconomic or social class effects on educationa l attainment. Some evidence, however, is more disturbing. While the influence of being Af rican American on the odds of graduation by age 18 had disappeared by 1970 in my multivariate analysis of decennial censuses, the association reappeared in 1980 and 19 90 for graduation by age 19 (Dorn, 1996, p. 20). I hypothesized that race had disappea red as a factor in the chances of early graduation after "socioeconomics/social class" is f actored out, but that African Americans are still less likely, even in a multivariate analy sis, to be regular high school graduates by the end of the ages that most youth attend high sch ool. In other words, the proportion of African Americans who are slightly precocious acade mically (who would graduate before their eighteenth birthday), given their economic ci rcumstances, is probably as high as the general population. Others, who may be less resilie nt, might be far more vulnerable to the combined effects of poverty and racism. Recent repo rts of racial differences in who earns regular diplomas as opposed to alternative credenti als (primarily the GED) suggest some confirmation of this suggestion (Kaufman et al., 20 00). Of those who earn some high school credential, white students are more likely t han the general population to earn high school diplomas, while Latino/a and African America n students are more likely to have alternative credentials.These alternative credentials, primarily the GED, h ave grown dramatically in the last three decades both in terms of programs and also in terms of those who receive a diploma alternative. After 1970, when amendments to the Adu lt Education Act allowed federally-sponsored adult education activities to e nroll minors and to lead to an alternative credential, growth snowballed to 294,000 GED recipi ents in 1974, 489,000 in 1981, and 516,000 in 1999. GED recipients represented 9 perce nt of young adults with high school credentials in the late 1990s (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). Young white or Asian adults with high school credentials are mo re likely to have regular diplomas than young Latino/a or African American adults (Kaufman et al., 2000, p. 19). One can, of course, interpret this information in at least two ways. Maybe alternative credential programs have provided an avenue to an essential cr edential for disadvantaged teens that otherwise would not exist. Or maybe the growth in a lternative credential programs has provided a safety valve for high schools, enabling them to slough off responsibility for poor students. The answer depends heavily on the re lative value of alternative credential programs, a matter of substantial dispute (Boesel, Alsalam, & Smith, 1996; Cameron & Heckman, 1993; Murnane, Willett, & Tyler, 1999).What is undisputed is the persistent association be tween socioeconomic or class status and the chances of attending and graduating from high s chool. The data sources vary from historical studies of local or state school systems (e.g., Kaestle & Vinovskis, 1980; Katz, Doucet, & Stern, 1982; Perlmann, 1988) to successiv e cross-sections of decennial censuses (Dorn, 1996) and other historical and cont emporary studies (e.g., Ekstrom, Guertz, Pollack, & Rock, 1987; Featherman & Hauser, 1976; Mare, 1980, 1981; Natriello, Pallas, & McDill, 1987; Walters & Briggs, 1993). Wh at is less certain are the influences of more family-specific factors. Historical sources generally agree with contemporary sources that having a parent or guardian with high educational attainment assists students


8 of 29in graduating, and that having a large family is a disadvantage (e.g., Dorn, 1996). However, those data about family structure are gene rally available only for the past. Many of the potential factors considered in contemporary analyses, especially psychological and school-specific factors (e.g., Rumberger, 1987, 199 5; Rumberger & Larson, 1998; Rumbert & Scott, 2000), simply do not have appropri ate sources providing data across a wide span of time.What is crucial to draw from this broad history is that the debate over high-stakes testing assumes that most students graduate, a fact that de veloped over the twentieth century. In the past wave of implementing tests (minimum compet ency tests, starting in the 1970s), most appeared to continue graduating after several chances. Unfortunately, most of the data sources that might resolve this historical que stion about minimum competency tests are insufficient. To my knowledge, no state-level o fficials have intentionally proposed high-stakes testing as a means to reduce the likelihood of graduating, though statements such as former President Clinton's (1999) about wan ting to ensure that a high school graduate can read his or her diploma are quite comm on. The unexamined assumption is that, given a clear set of expectations, students a nd schools will put forth sufficient effort to meet them. Was variation in effort responsible f or the patterns of graduation in the twentieth century?Why Growth and then Stability?The most persuasive explanations for the patterns i n graduation are theories of reciprocal movements between labor markets and schools, incent ives for school systems to increase attainment to some limit, and high school custodial ism. These are certainly not mutually exclusive explanations, and they each present impor tant insights into the twentieth-century dynamics of high school graduation. Theories that f ocus on changes in teen labor-markets or in the accepted mission of high schools, in part icular, should be a warning to those who think that simple incentives in a school system wil l result in clearly predictable outcomes. Complex interactions among labor markets, public de bate, and social beliefs about the value of education all are likely to interfere with any policy designed with a simple model of how to improve student achievement.Labor market-school reciprocityThe labor-market demand explanations of graduation trends focus both on the mutual exclusivity of full-time work and schooling, on the one hand, and the expectations that education can improve job prospects, on the other. As the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth, teens could find employment in a var iety of fields nationwide, and someone working full-time could not also be in school. At t he same time, many teens (especially boys) could see no necessary, obvious reward to con tinued schooling beyond age 13 or 14. Most jobs did not require, either nominally or in f act, the skills that one would develop in high school. What changed over the next sixty years was both the widespread exclusion of teenagers from full-time work and also the growing belief that an education was the ticket to success in the United States. At first in indust rial occupations and, later, in agriculture, both laws and alternative opportunities discouraged employers from hiring or keeping teens as full-time laborers (Osterman, 1980).At the same time, schools began to have a concrete reward attached to staying in school. The new clerical and white-collar occupations in th e twentieth century were different from


9 of 29clerical work in the nineteenth, which was a putati ve stepping-stone to ownership of small companies or factories. The new division of work in the industrial era was part of a larger reorganization of businesses that concentrated the manipulation of information as well as people and things. It was the era of industrial mon opoly and also of female typing pools (Chandler, 1977; Davies, 1982), and the conjunction was neither a coincidence nor inconsequential for education. With one or two year s of additional attendance, especially in commercial courses, a teenager could markedly im prove her or his opportunities for employment (Cohen, 1992; Kantor, 1982). One must be careful here not to overgeneralize. During the nineteenth century, the popularity of ma ny urban high schools depended on the relative credential value of attendance (Labaree, 1 988). However, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the development of a new type of work, marked both by its non-manual nature and also by its wage statu s. With an incentive to improve one's marketable skills, teenagers in the twentieth centu ry were more likely to attend—and thus graduate from—high schools (Goldin, 1998).The labor-market explanation fits well with the thr ee important features of graduation in the twentieth century. During most of the first sev en decades of the century, full-time employment opportunities for teens declined, and bo th attendance and graduation increased at the same time. During World War II, bo th military service and a tight labor market encouraged teens to leave high school, tempo rarily reversing a decades long trend. More recently, over the past three decades, as teen s have become more involved in part-time work, the mutually exclusive nature of wo rk and school has dwindled (Greenberger & Steinberg, 1986). Perhaps some teens are less willing to believe in the long-term rewards of high school when they can earn what seems to them to be good money immediately (also see Fine, 1987). There is s till a real value of diplomas in the labor market, which is the incentive for dropouts t o earn GED (or other alternative) diplomas, but the relationship between the labor ma rket and schools revolves as much around perceived rewards to and opportunity costs o f schooling as the reality. The labor-market explanation is plausible, if one is wi lling to assume that schools' actions are largely irrelevant to the patterns of who attends a nd graduates. Graduation as a reflection of system dynamicsGreen (1980) and Seidman (1996) have claimed, in co ntrast to focusing on the historical changes in labor markets, that school systems have powerful incentives to encourage greater educational attainment, up to a limit. The dynamics of educational systems, they claimed, push inevitably for more attainment. Argui ng from the characteristics of an abstract labor-market, Green claimed that the margi nal value of diplomas would be greatest when neither too low nor too high a propor tion of students earned it. Thus, he claimed, incentive for attainment would grow dramat ically between the low and high proportions, when the presumed value is highest. As each level of attainment becomes relatively saturated, the educational system will d ifferentiate existing credentials by reputation, focus more on achievement than on attai nment, and create a new norm for the next level of attainment. The theoretical ratchetin g up of attainment standards is similar to Freeman's (1976) argument about overeducation and c redentialism. The strength of Green's theory, and Seidman's application to gradua tion specifically, is its ability to explain the long plateau of high school graduation at the end of the twentieth century in a way that coincided with growing expectations for co llege and the appearance of a "dropout problem" (Dorn, 1993, 1996). As a much hig her proportion of the population now expect to attend college for some time in contr ast with 1960, the relative value of a


10 of 29high school diploma for most teenagers is as a step ping stone to college rather than an end in itself. In the meantime, Green asserted, high sc hools would be pressured to show more achievement for graduates (and less attention to me rely graduating them), as the system shifts focus from attainment to differentiating by quality. This theory of internal systemic pressures has one primary weakness, the assumption that the educational system is the primary driver in edu cational attainment, generally without regard to changing labor-market conditions and chan ging views about the social mission of schools. Green describes his hypothesis about th e benefits of an educational credential as a "tautological law" (Green, 1980, p. 94). The t heory cannot explain the decline in graduation in the early 1940s, a matter which a rec iprocal relationship between school and work explains with ease. In addition, the empirical claim of Green that the apparent advantages of attaining a diploma would be greatest when a moderate proportion of the population has attained it is inconsistent with evi dence about relatively early advantages to high school attainment and a surprisingly high rela tive advantage in recent years (Boylan, 1993; Goldin, 1998). (Note 2) Green is, however, th e most articulate proponent of the systematic explanation of broad trends in education al attainment, and his and Seidman's work reminds us that school systems have their own dynamics which will not always respond as desired to public policy.Graduation as a reflection of high school custodial ism Others have suggested that a growing custodial miss ion for high schools is partly responsible for making graduation easier. Angus, Mi rel, and Vinovskis (1988) pointed to education writings from the early twentieth century (Ayres, 1909; Thorndike, 1907) as prompting or marking a shift in public-school polic ies that encouraged schools' making work easier, de-emphasizing grade retention and aca demic coursework. Angus and Mirel (1999) argued, more comprehensively, that school of ficials deliberately crafted a custodial mission for secondary schools, in part out of lower expectations for the poorer students who were flooding high schools early in the century They argued that the only way to change high schools' historical underestimation of adolescent ability to conduct academic work would be consequential tests tied to content s tandards. The custodial argument can explain both the general trends and also the dip in graduation during World War II. During most of the early twentieth century, this argument runs, the growing custodial mission of the schools cultivated a "shopping mall" institutio nal culture that made attendance and earning credits easier while discouraging hard work for the majority of students (Powell, Farrar, & Cohen, 1985). For a short time during Wor ld War II, keeping teens in school was less important than the war effort, but that ch ange was temporary. Regular graduation statistics have remained on a plateau for the last few decades because the custodial mission concentrated on attendance, and graduation was an ancillary, if important, result for schools.The custodial argument presumes a monolithic impuls e to acquire and maintain enrollment for the legitimacy of the high school as an ideal of an institution. The custodial argument is weak where that impulse is clearly not monolithic. It cannot, by itself, explain the growth of alternative credentials over the past three decades. If the primary mission of high schools has successfully shifted from academic s to custodialism, then there should be no path to a diploma reserved entirely for those outside regular attendance. Nor can the custodial argument explain why schools have regular ly pushed out students (e.g., Fine, 1986, 1991), whom they should theoretically have an incentive to claim they successfully


11 of 29educate.Crucial questionsIn each theory described above, complex dynamics ha ve been at work in determining high school attendance and graduation. The questions one may ask about the potential influence of high-stakes tests on graduation revolv e around the relationships among various forces: Do high school students facing high-stakes tests ca lculate opportunity costs of further education differently from students not fac ing high-stakes tests? To what extent might the decisions of students to c ontinue school change depending on existing labor-force conditions? What incentives do school systems have, stemming fr om within as well as without, that will affect how they respond to students who f ail high-stakes tests? Is there independent evidence apart from test resul ts that high-stakes testing has altered the low academic expectations high schools have often set in the past century, as argued by Angus and Mirel (1999), Powel l, Farrar, and Cohen (1985), and Sizer (1984)? As argued earlier, these explanations are not neces sarily mutually exclusive. While the labor-market explanations suggest a largely externa l force, the other two theories suggest largely internal dynamics or decisions that shape t he opportunities available to teenagers. We need not choose among these explanations at the moment, for they do not explicitly conflict. (Whether fellow researchers may prefer on e explanation over another should not preclude consideration of them for policy purposes. ) Each provides useful questions to frame further exploration. In particular, the theor y of reciprocal labor market-school movement suggests that the effect of high-stakes te sting may be indirect. Even if graduation gateway tests do not directly prevent di plomas for many, promotional gates earlier in school may result in a higher proportion of 18-year-olds who are far away from graduation. Will they stay in school at the expense of current earnings, if they will need to stay in school until 20? Advocates of these promoti onal and graduation gates point out that promoting and graduating students without skil ls are hollow events, and I have had enough students in my college classes without usefu l skills to be sympathetic with that argument. The assumption, discussed below, is that the value of a diploma is equivalent to the value of the knowledge and skills one presumabl y learns in school. However, a teenager is usually not learning academic skills if she or he leaves school for work. Historically, self-education has been a difficult, if virtuous, activity (Kett, 1994).Stratified DiplomasIn addition to examining the history of changing at tendance and graduation, one must also note, in a history of graduation, how schools have invented new ways to make distinctions among those who attend an institution. A diploma, o riginally, was a way to establish a category for a relatively small portion of the smal l group who attended high schools in the nineteenth century: those who completed a program o f studies. The early twentieth century witnessed the introduction of additional diffferent iation through tracking and separate, specialized high schools. More recently, states hav e created different types of diploma. All of the changes in the last century form part of a r egular institutional repertoire of ways of compartmentalizing students when pressed to solve s pecific problems. One may


12 of 29anticipate, based on this history, that all states may shortly invent new categories of diplomas for students who fail to meet exit exam re quirements, if those numbers balloon, or that such students will be "cooled out" (see Cla rk, 1960) through non-academic exit routes.For most of U.S. history, the meaning of a diploma was largely irrelevant to the value of education. The majority of those who attended highe r education of any sort—colleges, academies, normal schools, grammar schools, and hig h schools—stayed briefly. Students and their families often found something of value i n education even without the piece of paper documenting completion of a program of studie s. For example, the vast majority of nineteenth-century students in Philadelphia's Centr al High School failed to earn a diploma. Despite this fact, high school attendance had become sufficiently attractive by the late nineteenth century to force Philadelphia's public schools to open more high schools (Labaree, 1988). So, too, those concerned a bout the inadequate education of children were more concerned with increasing experi ence (or what we might today call educational attainment) than with the acquisition o f the diploma itself (Kett, 1995). Only in the 1960s (as described below) did the diploma b ecome a sufficiently powerful expectation that its opposite, dropping out, comman ded headline status as a social problem.Even before the 1960s, though, the different potent ial goals for high school were creating an incentive to separate different groups of studen ts in various ways. As Labaree (1988) explained with regard to Philadelphia, high schools were under pressure both to maintain the credential value of a high school education and also to open up access. The solution, reached in 1939 in Philadelphia, was a stratified s et of high schools. Central High School was reborn as a selective high school open to stude nts citywide through competitive admissions, with the other high schools as comprehe nsive high schools open to all in their attendance area. Many other large cities, such as N ew York, established similar, hierarchical organizations of schools. Some of the systems that did not have a Central High School or Bronx School of Science created voca tional schools, which could serve to boost (or erode) the reputation of the other school s. Differentiation through the establishment of high s chools with unique programs and entrance criteria was one step beyond differentiati on of students within high schools through tracking, which had developed earlier in th e century (Angus & Mirel, 1999; Herbst, 1996; Krug, 1964). It was not a significant change in terms of how schools created separate expectations for different groups of stude nts, though it was occasionally controversial locally, as in an attempt to create a separate vocational high school in Chicago early in the century (e.g., Katznelson & We ir, 1985). The creation of separate schools demonstrates, however, the way that public schools have been willing to create new programs in a flexible manner to respond to var ious pressures (Tyack & Cuban, 1995).One consequence of this flexibility is that school systems have been willing to create programs for different levels of diplomas. In the l ast fifteen years, states across the country have created different official diplomas as well as an unofficial policy in some districts to steer students into GED programs. One recent report (Guy, Shin, Lee, & Thurlow, 1999) documented fifteen separate types of diploma in the fifty states and the District of Columbia (even after collapsing most diplomas into four basic categories). Three years ago, eight states had one type of exit document for high school students. Twelve states had some type of honors diploma, 35 had either "IEP" di plomas or certificates of attendance


13 of 29(typically available only for students with disabil ities), and thirteen states had additional, idiosyncratic types of exit document.Administrative databases (such as the Common Core o f Data) often do not make such fine distinctions among types of diploma when granted by a single institution (public high schools, in this case). The proliferation of diplom a types, both granted by public schools directly and also as alternatives to high school di plomas, requires some study. There is a real danger that some students, unable to succeed i n mandatory academic diploma exams, would be granted alternative credentials that other s would see as "watered-down," either directly through school programs or by steering int o GED programs. The history of high schools has been replete with sometimes ingenious w ays that high schools have undermined efforts to raise academic expectations f or what students can do, and while one would wish that schools would avoid differentiation one must not be blind to their tendency to engage in precisely this type of respon se to public policy demands. Some might suggest that high school diplomas have b ecome less important in their role for more people as an intermediate step to higher e ducation than as a terminal degree. However, the changes in higher education, while par allel to high school differentiation, actually reinforce the importance of the high schoo l diploma in itself, as the mid twentieth-century sequencing of high school and col lege schooling has eroded. One would be viewing the history of education too narrowly if one did not acknowledge that the differentiation of the high school (in terms of cur riculum, buildings, and diplomas) has paralleled the differentiation of higher education. Colleges and universities developed electives and majors a century ago. More recently, discussion of community-college and adult vocational programs has focused on the allege d need for more credentials, certificates, and degrees (Parnell, 1985; National Center on Education and the Economy, 1990). Even though the broad push for vocational ce rtificate programs envisioned by early Clinton administration officials has largely disapp eared, community colleges have taken up the call for certificate-like programs on their own. At the same time as community colleges and high schools are creating new types of exit document, the century-long sequencing of schooling has started to decay. High school students can enroll in both high school and college in many places. A high proportio n of college students are older than 25. Many adolescents and adults exit from and reent er schooling several times. Diplomas, thus, are no longer primarily an exit document for students who are leaving formal schooling. Understanding the impact of high-stakes testing on graduation requires consideration, therefore, of both the immediate val ue of a diploma for graduates and also its use as a key to formal schooling later in life. The significance of high school graduation has not degraded to the point of eighth grade gradu ation (for some proportion still have a high school diploma as the highest educational cred ential they will receive), but some parallel remains: both are necessary to continued a ttendance at school. There are two logical consequences that follow from this broader context. First, measuring educational attainment requires a life-course appro ach to measuring schooling, perhaps not as complex as a multi-state life table (e.g., L and & Hough, 1989), but one that accommodates the various stops and starts in formal schooling that were common in the nineteenth century and are becoming more common tod ay. Second, high school completion is a step in educational attainment with multiple uses. Measuring only the impact of high-stakes testing in terms of income mi sses the way that graduation credentials are prerequisites for higher education. If a consequence of high-stakes testing is a lower probability of graduating from high scho ol, then a long-term result might be a


14 of 29lower probability of having access to quality highe r education later in life.MeaningThe recent debate over how standardized testing may affect graduation chances for students demonstrates how the social meaning of a d iploma has changed over the past century. In 1900, high school graduation was rare, and the act of leaving school before attending high school or earning a diploma was an e xpected, if sometimes lamented, fact of life for most teenagers. If standardized testing had existed for graduating high school students then, probably very few would have been co ncerned about the potential effects on students. One hundred years later, those who leave school without a diploma are violating a normative expectation about what adolescents do ( attend and graduate from high school), and many deem that violation sufficiently dangerous to society as a whole that the action has a special term—"dropping out"—and often earns public-policy scrutiny. In part, we worry about dropouts for economic reasons, thoug h there is considerable debate about the extent to which a diploma represents additional human capital rather than the competitive value of a credential in a labor queue (e.g., Becker, 1964; Berg, 1970; Dore, 1976).Those in the U.S. have worried about dropping out a s a social problem, for the popular image of a high school dropout is of an adult witho ut a viable future, an emblem of dependence (Dorn, 1996). Throughout the last centur y, educators and others have occasionally argued for public-policy remedies to t he act of leaving school, and beginning in the 1960s, the "dropout problem" became the foca l point of deliberate, well-publicized institutional efforts. Those debates have affected the larger patterns of attendance and graduation very little, however. The fact that spec ialized programs other than the GED have not seemed to affect the larger trends suggest s that public-policy discussion of dropping out has been ineffective. The greatest exp ansion in the rights of students to attend or continue attending schools came in the 19 70s, long after the height of the first wave of headlines over dropping out and generally u nconnected to it. Too often, public policy discussion of dropping out is disconnected f rom the larger patterns of school system behavior. One should thus be wary of narrow interpretations of the graduation-test question that may omit crucial features of schools. In particular, the proliferation of diploma types, in addition to the act of leaving sc hool, is a crucial new feature of secondary education in the U.S. that deserves atten tion.The Recent Norm of GraduationDebate about dropping out in the past four decades reflects the relatively new expectation of graduation for teenagers. Impossible before most adolescents attended high school for several years, this expectation bloomed during the 1960s into a public, headline-grabbing discussion about why we should be concerned about d ropping out and what schools might do to solve the problem. Two aspects about the deve lopment of graduation as a norm (or expectation) are important to the discussion at thi s workshop. First, graduation is an age-related norm, part of the historical growth in age conscio usness that has paralleled the development of retirement and other "stages of life that did not exist in public awareness two centuries ago (Chudacoff, 1989; Graebner, 1980; Haber, 1983; Kett, 1977). Because traditional high school programs serve teenagers, a nd because most adult education programs for dropouts focus on the GED as a goal, i n most cases only teenagers can meet that norm of graduation. Also, graduation statistic s that focus on the teen years most


15 of 29appropriately measure the extent to which high scho ols meet that norm. In addition to expecting graduation as a part of ad olescence, many in the U.S. also expect graduation to solve many potential problems facing both individual teenagers and society in general. Many argue for attention to dropping ou t because high school graduates earn more, are less likely to be in jail, are less likel y to have children out of wedlock, and so forth. As sociologist Lucius Cervantes asserted mor e than three decades ago, today's dropouts would be the "gangsters, hoodlums, drug ad dicted, government-dependent-prone, irresponsible and illeg itimate parents of tomorrow" (Cervantes, 1965, p. 197). The dropout literature i n the 1960s married the tangible economic penalties of dropping out (higher unemploy ment and lower income) with the assumption that dropouts were psychologically weak, delinquency prone males to create a stereotype of dropouts as those who would, in the f uture, be dependent on society (Dorn, 1993, 1996).The 1960s were certainly not the first time that ei ther educators or school critics were concerned about how students attended or left schoo l, nor was it the first decade when anyone claimed that schools should address a multit ude of social problems. Educators and social critics have claimed, at various times since the establishment of English colonies in North America that schools should train future lead ers, assimilate immigrants, discourage immorality among the poor, prevent class conflict, inculcate nationalistic values, and improve the character of workers, to name some of t he goals. However, for most of U.S. history, sporadic attendance—not leaving school bef ore acquiring a diploma—has been the target of reformers' efforts (Kaestle, 1983; Tr opea, 1987). Even when some have been concerned about how much educational experience a c hild has received (as opposed to its consistency), the goal has been general educational attainment rather than the specific target of high school graduation (Kett, 1995).What was new in the 1960s was the link between olde r beliefs about the value of schools, on the one hand, and the new expectation of graduat ion, on the other. Symbolizing this link was a word that, before the 1960s, had been on e of several ways that educators talked about those who left school before high school grad uation. Student withdrawals and early school leavers were certainly the topics of debate from 1900 through the late 1950s. In the past four decades, however, those who discussed stu dent attrition have generally used one word, dropout (or variants of it), to name the problem. Dropping out has become the inverse of graduation, representing individual and social danger and growing directly from our new expectation that teenagers graduate from hi gh school. The second national educational goal, 90 percent high school graduation (however measured), culminates a sea change in how we as a society have been concerned a bout attendance. The creation of an expectation for graduation was predictable once the majority of teens began graduating (also see Green, 1980). However, the form that the expectation took and the cultural rationale for it were not. As a society, we have ch osen to be concerned about dropping out as a cause of adult dependence. Thus, many warnings about the long-term consequences of barriers to graduation today take the form of so cial results like crime and unemployment. Raising a discussion focused on alter native concerns (such as equity) is difficult. And, in general, disentangling all the i ssues is harder because we have a legacy of public debate that has conflated them. (Labaree, (1997)Ineffective Public Policy


16 of 29Deliberate public policy efforts to reduce dropping out have suffered from limits in scope, contradictions in the purposes of high schools, the prevailing stereotypes about dropouts, and a persistent belief in the power of public rela tions. One needs to be cautious about generalizations because dropout policies vary by lo cal district and also by government level (district, state, and federal). Local circums tances have shaped most dropout programs, even where funds flow from above. However one must contrast the pronouncements regularly made about dropout prevent ion with the relative stability in regular high school graduation over the past few de cades (the time when we have described school attrition as dropping out ). While an individual program may well have helped teenagers in it (and many programs certainly have), dropout prevention programs have, together, not changed the nationwide patterns of graduating and leaving school. The obvious question is, why have programs had such lit tle effect overall? The obvious answer—but an important one—is that dro pout prevention programs have generally been small, focusing on a few students or dropouts at a time. They are programs rather than changes in schools Tyack and Cuban (1995) argue that schools have, historically, been far more willing to adopt small, incremental changes than large ones. A school system can more easily approve one, two, or ten small dropout prevention programs than it can change prevailing expectations teachers and principals may have about students. New York City's public schools, whi ch had the most programs explicitly labeled "dropout prevention" in the 1960s, never pl anned (even at the beginning of the War on Poverty) to serve more than a fraction of ad olescent dropouts (Dorn, 1996, p. 88). Dropout prevention efforts are, while sometimes dif ferent in character from the earliest ones, still not very different in scope. They still involve counseling, still have difficulties with funding, and still are on the edges of school systems' organizations (Dynarski & Gleason, 1998). School systems like New York City o ften eliminated dropout prevention efforts when outside funding dried up in the later 1960s, and one can still hear similar tales today. Systematic dropout prevention is not a high priority for most local school systems.One reason why dropout prevention is not a priority is that it contradicts an abiding incentive for public school systems to restrict cre dentials. Even if one disagrees with Green's (1980) and Seidman's (1996) argument about the limits of educational credentials, there is a long history of high schools being rewar ded for either restricting all high school credentials or stratifying them and restricting the most valued ones (Labaree, 1988). As discussed in the Diplomas section above, public school systems have created selective-admission high schools and programs, and these features of the system often generate the most positive news for public schools. Public high schools thus have contradictory missions, attempting both to educate all adolescents and also to provide the highest rewards to a limited few. As part of that s tructure and the rhetoric of meritocracy in North American society in general (Lemann, 1999) many teachers and principals believe deeply in schooling as a meritocratic syste m. The administrator who told Fine (1986, 1991) that low-performing or troubling stude nts were "hijackers" of his school was not alone. Many educators simply do not want to edu cate everyone. Even the most well-meaning teachers often resort to a form of edu cational triage, trying to save a few children while tolerating the failure of others (e. g., Michie, 1999; Sapon-Shevin, 1993; Sizer, 1984).In addition to being small and fighting competing g oals for public schools, the broad


17 of 29assumption of psychological problems of potential a nd real dropouts has encouraged programs that focus on remedying individual defects rather than addressing needs more broadly. Consistent with the common belief that dro pouts were budding juvenile delinquents on the way to unemployment with little thought of their futures, many early dropout programs featured either individual counsel ing (to solve personal adjustment issues) or work experience programs (to increase th e chances of employment later) (Dorn, 1996). I know of no dropout program in the 1960s th at addressed concrete needs in a narrow fashion, such as providing day care services for students with children. Even now, providing day care is an exception rather than the norm as part of dropout prevention strategies (see Orr, 1987, for a smorgasbord approa ch to dropout prevention). Focusing on student deficits is certainly not unique either to dropout prevention or to the United States; critics of special education or other at-risk progr ams often point out deficit orientation, and the former Soviet Union had an Institute on Def ectology (see Vygotsky, 1993, for the casual use of the word, akin to the English "handic apped"). The deficit focus of dropout prevention has had two consequences, one practical and one political. The practical consequence of a deficit orientation is that such p rograms may not solve the problems dropouts have that are outside their control (such as poverty, inadequate public transportation, or school-caused problems). The pol itical consequence of a deficit orientation is that such programs have few lasting constituencies that can fight for their long-term survival as Cuban (1992) describes is n ecessary for the longevity of school reform efforts (Dorn, 1996).Lastly, nationally visible dropout prevention effor ts have consistently assumed the persuasive powers of public relations, following a pattern that dates back to before dropping out became a headline issue. The two World Wars, the 1950s, 1963, and the early 1990s all witnessed national public-relations efforts (generally through public-private partnerships) to convince dropouts t o return to school or students to remain in school. Four of the five efforts went by the sam e name: the "Stay in School" campaign (Angus, 1965; Dorn, 1996). None had a documented me aningful effect, because public relations efforts could not significantly change th e reasons why most dropouts would leave school. In particular, the push and pull infl uences described above have generally gone unmentioned in public policy debate. The assum ption that public relations alone can change broad demographic patterns is simplistic.Limits on Public Policy DebateConsistent with the limits of explicit dropout prev ention and remediation efforts have been limits on public policy debate. We do not alwa ys talk about practices that are responsible for more attrition than small programs can ever compensate for. The first wave of explicit dropout programs in the 1960s demo nstrated this type of omission. Despite arguments about the importance of eliminati ng dropping out, neither schools nor their critics suggested changing three crucial poli cies that encouraged dropping out: the exclusion of students with disabilities from school s, the regular separation of pregnant teenagers from schools, and widespread suspension a nd expulsion without due process. Challenges to all of those practices succeeded in t he 1970s, well after the initial peak of concern over dropping out and by using a civil-righ ts argument rather than highlighting the social costs of under-education (Dorn, 1996). W hile discussion in the 1980s was more likely to focus on the civil-rights dimensions of s tudent attrition, public policy discussion still has revolved around the perceived link betwee n dropping out and dependency. Even liberals like California Rep. George Miller have ju stified federal aid in a way that 1960s


18 of 29writers on the dropout problem would have recognize d: Without a high school education, few will be able t o compete in the new, high-technology centered labor market. Dropout prev ention programs are essential to securing family self-sufficiency and t o prevent the cycle from starting over again with a new generation of childr en. (Miller, 1987, p. H3901-2) Discussion of dropping out as an equity concern has certainly existed in the last fifteen years, but it has not dominated public debate (Dorn 1996). The history suggests that the shadow of dependency will tend to dominate discussi on of dropping out. Those trying to persuade the public to pay attention will emphasize the social costs of dropping out, echoing the last 35 years of writings and speeches on dropping out. In trying to get attention, these appeals to fears about dependency can easily drown other ways of framing dropping out.Shifting TensionsThe tensions described here, between broadening edu cational access and restricting credentials, have shifted in the past forty years f rom its roots in schools as institutions to broader political debate. In 1960, many of those wh o had doubts about the wisdom of graduating everyone would have been older educators born before 1920, who had gone to school when only a minority graduated from high sch ool. The changes in law in the 1970s limiting the ability of schools to exclude students as well as the stable proportion (a large majority) who do graduate from high school, have be en in place now for more than a quarter of a century. Most educators today grew up when graduation was a norm and have been professionals, for the most part, during a tim e when schools have had to open their doors to all children. Today, the institutional ten sion in the mission of high schools remains. However, I see far more tension in public debate than in schools as organizations. Policymakers simultaneously call for 90 percent graduation (in the second national goal) and an end to social promotion. Advo cates of high-stakes testing argue that testing with consequences will provide motivation f or teachers and students to work hard and thus accomplish universal high-quality educatio n. The push for high-stakes testing is, in part, a consequence of that shift to broader pol itical discussion about schooling in a national debate. Many states have taken this road t o what seems, to this historian, a holy grail of testing (Goldstein, 1997). The motivation of many is admirable; however, introspection about the dilemmas of schooling is la rgely absent.Lessons and PerspectivesThe history of graduation, diplomas, and concerns a bout dropping out in the last century provides a guide, if not to the future, at least to some plausible issues of concern in the discussion of graduation in an era of high-stakes t esting. These concerns mirror those of the National Research Council's (2001) Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity. There is a real possibility that increased use of high-stakes testing will decrease in some measurable amount the likelihood of teens grad uating from regular high school programs in the U.S. in general. The recent stabili ty in the regular high school graduation rate is evidence that graduation does not always in crease, and the decline at the end of the World War II is evidence that it can decrease under certain circumstances. One could imagine, plausibly, that the direct and indirect ef fects of high-stakes tests might result in a


19 of 29lower likelihood of teens' graduating with academic diplomas. In addition, the recent proliferation of high school credentials, together with the history of high school differentiation, should raise the empirical questio n of which diploma earned" to a high priority in any research tracking the consequences of high-stakes testing. Finally, the small size of most dropout programs historically and the blind spots in public discussion of dropping out should warn anyone against the belief that a few band-aid programs might easily staunch a large flow of teenagers heading th rough school doors. These issues raised by the history described here do not predict whethe r high-stakes tests will restore some presumed value of the diploma or increase the likel ihood of student attrition. They should, however, help frame further discussion and research Moreover, the long tangled history of diplomas and the different possible values of a high school degree suggests that we must be very clear w hen discussing the rationale for high-stakes tests. Diplomas have an exchange value, either in a labor market or to gain entry to another school, and that exchange value ma y not be directly related to the purpose of a degree requirement. On what basis are states w ithholding a standard academic diploma from students who do not meet certain exami nation requirements? Having the diploma for its exchange value is important to most students, and so one must balance the property interest in a diploma (as the Debra P. case described it) against the eventual purpose of the degree requirement. When is threaten ing a student's access to the exchange value of a diploma a justifiable policy? Consider t he following potential goals of any requirement: Improving the education of the student directly; Improving the exchange value of the diploma for the student (perhaps by increasing its credibility immediately with employers or colle ges); Certifying concrete skills or knowledge in an educa tional program for society (where a degree requirement is tied to the specific program); Certifying the general intellectual worth of gradua tes for society (where a degree requirement is not tied to a specific program); Improving the status of a school or schools (throug h the credibility of a degree's inherent worth or through restricting credentials); Improving the exchange value of the diploma for fut ure students (by increasing its credibility in the long term); and Using the pressure from current failures to encoura ge schools to improve in the future. I have ordered these seven goals from the most imme diate to the most distant in relationship to the students. In the first two goal s, there are alleged direct benefits to the student, either in the use value of a diploma (the learning) or in the exchange value of the diploma. In the third and fourth goals, with social benefits, the student may gain indirectly. The last three goals use the student as a means, in essence, to others' ends, with little foreseeable benefit to the students in quest ion. One may evaluate some of these goals in terms of ethics. I would, for example, disapprov e of policies where the goal uses current students primarily as pawns. Other goals, such as t he first two, are amenable to empirical exploration. The third goal is most common in profe ssional preparation programs, where the state has a clear interest in skilled graduates of medical schools, colleges of education, and the like, and where one might directly evaluate the relevance of specific requirements. The hardest goal to weigh against the property inte rest in a diploma is certifying graduates as educated in toto General education requirements, whether they are courses or exams,


20 of 29are always proxies for evaluating whether a student is sufficiently skilled or intellectual to have earned the title "graduate." The risk in eithe r type of requirement is that passing a course or exam might be, at best, a poor substitute for being a well-educated graduate. If one can narrow the goal of graduation gateway testi ng to this general certification, though, one can examine the merits of the proxy relationshi p more clearly. Would the expectations be reasonable (or a healthy intellectual stretch) f or a well-educated adult today? Do the exams measure what adults value in a well-educated neighbor? Do all students have a clear opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge by the end of a phase-in period? We rarely discuss this proxy relationship in a stra ightforward manner because of the social and political baggage that the high school diploma has acquired over more than a century. We assume, all too often, that the skills and knowl edge learned before, the exchange value of, and the social benefits of diplomas are identic al. As high school graduation has become common, and as dropping out has acquired the connotation of dependency, we have focused many of our anxieties about a changing world on teenagers and a piece of paper that most—but not all—acquire. This historian believes firmly that disentangling all these social meanings of diplomas would help us ana lyze the potential consequences of high-stakes tests for teenagers, the meaning of tho se consequences, and how to explain this analysis to a country that is desperate for a diploma with some recognized meaning.Notes1. The series of the diploma-to-17-year-old-populat ion ratio mixes data from Goldin (1999) with more recent and updated information fro m the U.S. Department of Education (Snyder & Hoffman, 2001). Since teenagers are now m ore likely to graduate at age 18 than in most of the twentieth century, that ratio b ased on the 17-year-old population will underestimate graduation when the 17-year-old popul ation is larger than the 18-year-old population and will overestimate graduation when th e 18-year-old population is larger. In neither will the differences be meaningful in terms of the long-term trends described here, though the measure is not a true event-exposure rat e or a probability (in the same way that the infant mortality rate is not a true event-expos ure rate but nonetheless is a rough measure of mortality conditions at the beginning of life). The interval spans for both the Dorn (1996) and Kaufman et al. (2001) series are ma pped back to the birth cohort of the mid-point of the range: The 18-24-year-old graduati on rate reported for 2000 by Kaufman et al. is mapped back to the birth year of those ag e 21, or 1979. It is, in effect, a step to smooth the estimate. As Goldin (1998) noted, adults exaggerate when self-reporting education. The census in 1940 experienced far more evident exaggeration (when compared to graduation statistics Goldin gathered) than more recently, so the growing spread between the self-reported figures and the di ploma-to-17-year-old population ratio in the past few decades is not likely to be a resul t of increased exaggeration by those surveyed.2. Green (1980) and Seidman (1996) have argued that the standard assumption of a relative advantage of educational attainment (compa ring having a degree to not having it) ignores the way that creeping attainment in a cohor t make the relevant comparison the mean proportion of the cohort. As a higher proporti on of a cohort have a degree, the relative advantage of having a diploma (compared to the rest of one's cohort) disappears, and the more visible issue becomes the penalty of m issing that diploma (relative to the cohort as a whole). Whether such a distinction is m eaningful in economic terms is an open question, but the socially-perceived advantages and penalties, however, are often in


21 of 29comparison with relative norms. In that regard, Gre en and Seidman are substantially correct: high school graduation has become more com monly a stepping-stone to college since 1965, especially for children of wealthier fa milies, while dropping out is now universally perceived as a serious impediment to ec onomic success for adults.ReferencesAngus, D. (1965). The dropout problem. Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, Columbus, OH.Angus, D., & Mirel, J. E. (1999). The failed promise of the American high school, 1890-1995 New York: Teachers College Press. Angus, D., Mirel, J. E., & and Vinovskis, M. A. (19 88). Historical development of age stratification in schooling. Teachers College Record 90, 211-236. Ayres, L. P. (1909). Laggards in our schools New York: Survey Associates, Inc. Becker, G. (1964). Human capital New York: Columbia University Press. Berg, I. (1970). Education and jobs: The great training robbery. New York: Praeger. Boesel, D., Alsalam, N., & Smith, T. (1996). Educational and labor market performance of GED recipients Washington, DC: National Library of Education. Boylan, R. D. (1993). The effect of the number of d iplomas on their value. Sociology of Education 66, 206-221. Cameron, S. V., & Heckman, J. L. (1993). The nonequ ivalence of high school equivalents. Journal of Labor Economics 1, 1-47. Cervantes, L. F. (1965). The dropout : Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Chandler, A. D. (1977). The visible hand Cambridege, MA: Belknap Press. Chudacoff, H. P. (1989). How old are you? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Clark, B. R. (1960). The "cooling out" function in higher education. American Journal of Sociology 65, 569-76. Clinton, W. J. (1999). State of the Union address. Retrieved October 2, 2001, from OTU99/ Cremin, L. A. (1989). Popular education and its discontents New York: Harper & Row. Cohen, M. (1992). Workshop to office Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Cuban, L. (1992). Why some reforms last. American Journal of Education 100, 166-194. Davies, M. (1982). Woman's place is at the typewriter Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Debra P. v. Turlington 644 F. 2d 397 (5th Cir. 1981), 564 F. Supp. 177 ( M.D. Fla. 1983).


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26 of 29Rumberger, R. W., & Scott, T. L. (2000). The distri bution of dropout and turnover rates among urban and suburban high schools. Sociology of Education 73, 39-67. Sapon-Shevin, M. (1993). Gifted education and the p rotection of privilege: Breaking the silence, opening the discourse. In L. Weis and M. F ine (Eds.), Beyond silenced voices: Class, race, and gender in United States Schools (pp. 25-44). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Salganik, L. H. (1985). Why testing reforms are so popular and how they are changing education. Phi Delta Kappan 66, 607-610 Seidman, R. H. (1996). National education 'Goals 20 00': Some disastrous unintended consequences. Education Policy Analysis Archives 4(11). Retrieved October 2, 2001, from Sizer, T. (1984). Horace's compromise Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Snyder, T. D., (Ed.). (1993). One hundred twenty years of American education Washington, DC: National Center for Education Stati stics. Snyder, T. D., & Hoffman, C. M., (Ed.). (2002). Digest of education statistics 2001 Washington, DC: National Center for Education Stati stics. Thorndike, E. L. (1907). The elimination of pupils from school U.S. Bureau of Education Bulletin No. 4, Whole No. 379. Washington, DC: Gove rnment Printing Office. Tropea, J. (1987). Bureaucratic order and special c hildren: Urban schools, 1890s-1940s. History of Education Quarterly 27, 29-53. Turlington, R. D. (1985). How testing is changing e ducation in Florida. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice 4(2), 9-11. Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Vygotsky, L. S. (1993). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol. 2: The fundamentals of defectology (abnormal psychology and learning disab ilities) (J. E. Knox & C. B. Stevens, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.Walters, P. B., & Briggs, C. M. (1993). The family economy, child labor, and schooling. American Sociological Review 58, 163-181.AcknowledgmentThis article began as a commissioned work for the J uly 2000 workshop on school completion in standards-based reform of the Nationa l Research Council's Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity. I am gra teful for comments by an anonymous reviewer for the Education Policy Analysis Archives as well as by Robert Hauser, Ulric Neisser, Diana Pullin, Bella Rosenberg, Russell Rum berger, and William Trent that shaped revisions, as well as the permission of the National Research Council to use that commissioned paper as the basis for this article. A ny opinions expressed are those of the


27 of 29 author and neither those of the persons mentioned a bove nor of the National Research Council.About the AuthorSherman DornUniversity of South Florida EDU1624202 E. Fowler AvenueTampa, FL 33620-7750E-mail: Sherman Dorn is Associate Professor in the Departme nt of Psychological and Social Foundations in the College of Education at the Univ ersity of South Florida. He teaches social foundations courses, and his interests inclu de how schools have historically treated marginalized populations and the construction of po licy problems in educational politics.Copyright 2003 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 8 5287-2411. The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin David C. Berliner Arizona State University Greg Camilli Rutgers University Linda Darling-Hammond Stanford University Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Gustavo E. Fischman California State Univeristy–Los Angeles Richard Garlikov Birmingham, Alabama Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Aimee Howley Ohio University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Ontario Institute ofTechnology Patricia Fey Jarvis Seattle, Washington Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Green Mountain College Les McLean University of Toronto Heinrich Mintrop University of California, Los Angeles


28 of 29 Michele Moses Arizona State University Gary Orfield Harvard University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Jay Paredes Scribner University of Missouri Michael Scriven University of Auckland Lorrie A. Shepard University of Colorado, Boulder Robert E. Stake University of Illinois—UC Kevin Welner University of Colorado, Boulder Terrence G. Wiley Arizona State University John Willinsky University of British ColumbiaEPAA Spanish Language Editorial BoardAssociate Editor for Spanish Language Roberto Rodrguez Gmez Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico Adrin Acosta (Mxico) Universidad de J. Flix Angulo Rasco (Spain) Universidad de Teresa Bracho (Mxico) Centro de Investigacin y DocenciaEconmica-CIDEbracho Alejandro Canales (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma Ursula Casanova (U.S.A.) Arizona State Jos Contreras Domingo Universitat de Barcelona Erwin Epstein (U.S.A.) Loyola University of Josu Gonzlez (U.S.A.) Arizona State Rollin Kent (Mxico)Departamento de InvestigacinEducativa-DIE/ Mara Beatriz Luce (Brazil)Universidad Federal de Rio Grande do Sul-UFRGSlucemb@orion.ufrgs.brJavier Mendoza Rojas (Mxico)Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicojaviermr@servidor.unam.mxMarcela Mollis (Argentina)Universidad de Buenos Humberto Muoz Garca (Mxico) Universidad Nacional Autnoma deMxicohumberto@servidor.unam.mxAngel Ignacio Prez Gmez (Spain)Universidad de Daniel Schugurensky (Argentina-Canad)OISE/UT, Canada Simon Schwartzman (Brazil)American Institutes for Resesarch–Brazil(AIRBrasil)


29 of 29 r Jurjo Torres Santom (Spain)Universidad de A Carlos Alberto Torres (U.S.A.)University of California, Los