MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It's the classic anxiety dream. We've all had it. You're back in high school, and you have to pass one more test. Well, if you're students in some states, that nightmare is playing out in reverse. Some school districts are actually calling up former students from years ago who never passed their exit exams and telling them they've graduated after all. Anya Kamenetz and the NPR Ed team are tracking this and other shifting requirements for a high school degree. Hey, Anya.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So what's going on here with students being offered these brand new diplomas?
KAMENETZ: Well, there's a bit of whiplash because of changing requirements, particularly when it comes to exit exams. So as recently reported by Education Week, in 2012, half of all states required students to pass end-of-course tests to graduate. And now that number's been going down, and it's down to just 13 states.
KELLY: So is this basically an issue of fairness, state officials deciding we can't hold students responsible for not passing a test that we don't feel is particularly relevant ourselves?
KAMENETZ: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, when you remove the test requirement, the question naturally arises. Why would you leave students without a diploma when the test they failed is no longer required? And that's why states, including California, Texas, South Carolina, Arizona and Alaska, have actually had to go back and pass laws that say that anyone who met all the other requirements for a degree can go ahead and get their diploma now even if they finished school many years ago.
KELLY: Many years ago, do we know how many years back they're going and how many students will be affected by this?
KAMENETZ: Well, it varies state to state. Some states, it's five years. Some states, it may be as long as 20 years. And the changes affect potentially tens of thousands of young people. And this is not a little difference. You know, if you have a high school diploma in this country, on average, you are earning almost 40 percent more per week.
KAMENETZ: But there's a catch, of course, and that's that states, even though they pass these laws, they're not passing out any money to district sort of schools to actually locate these former students and to give them their degrees.
KELLY: So potentially, there are students out here who may be affected and don't know it.
KAMENETZ: Absolutely. I did talk to one head of data and assessment in a district near Phoenix who had really taken the initiative with this and ended up mailing out dozens of diplomas.
KELLY: OK, Anya Kamenetz from the NPR Ed team, thanks so much.
KAMENETZ: Thank you.
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