Why not raise what is considered passing?
The Los Angeles Times in an editorial today urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto an public education bill that has passed the California Legislature. The bill, backed by Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), would allow students who flunked the required high school exit exam to still get their diploma if they cobbled together a substitute in the form of a special project or portfolio of work. As noted in the piece, determining basic subject mastery could lead to abuse by students who may cheat without adequate supervision and by school districts who would look for an easy way to boost their graduation rates. Moreover, the exit exam itself is not that hard to pass.
Criticism of the federal education reform No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is that it imposes on school districts requirements such as annual testing and adequate yearly progress metrics which lead to teachers and school administrators "teaching to the test" instead of planning assignments to meet the needs of each and every student. Often the complaints center around students who may do poorly on timed tests without taking into account a more complete picture of that student's academic performance in the classroom.
One alternative and simple idea to mandating more end-of-year tests or exit exams is to raise the bar at which a passing grade is accepted as credit for a particular course or in determining eligbility for a diploma. Most schools will deem a course successfully passed if a student receive a letter grade as low as a "D" or numerical grade as low as 65. If schools required students to earn at least a "C" or numerical grade of at least 75, then there would be less pressure on educators and politicians to need year end or exit exams to determine whether students are ready for the next grade, college or the workforce.