Bill to end high school exit exams advances in House finance

JUNEAU, Alaska — The House Finance Committee on Thursday moved a bill that would end the high school exit examination.

House Bill 220, sponsored by Rep. Pete Higgins, R=Fairbanks, would scrap the secondary-student competency examination. The move would save the state $2.7 million.

The bill had a deadline of June 30, 2017, for former students to request a high school diploma from a district if they had successfully completed all the school’s academic requirements for graduation but failed the exit examination.

That deadline was eliminated through an amendment offered by Democratic Rep. Les Gara, who was concerned that not all former high school students would receive notice of the deadline.

“Not every Alaskan reads every law we pass,” Gara said.

Reps. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, and Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, also said former Alaska high school students may be out of state or overseas and not receive word of the changes made in getting a high school diploma.

The measure affects students from when the test was first administered in 2004 to the present.

The current high school graduating class members “are graduating under current law, which means they will have to take the test or have already taken the test,” Education Commissioner Mike Hanley said. The test is offered twice in an academic year, October and April.

But if the bill becomes law before the graduation date of high school classes, those students will also be eligible to receive their high school diplomas without passing their exit examination.

The Parnell administration had originally wanted a three-year transition period for phasing out the exit examination, but Hanley said the main goal of the administration was the elimination of the test. The administration would not oppose the measure, Hanley said.

Not counting this year’s state high school graduating class, an estimated 2,368 students who did not pass the exit examination are eligible to receive a high school diploma retroactively.

The bill moves to the House Rules Committee.

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