Mixed with Wednesday's mostly upbeat State of the State address, Gov. Tony Knowles referred to a statutory deadline that ought to concern every Alaskan.
''Three-quarters of those who took Alaska's high school graduation exam last spring passed reading, half passed writing and only a third passed math,'' Knowles noted. ''Those who tried a second time in October didn't do much better.''
The governor was referring to the alarming failure rate seen on the new battery of tests that, from 2002 forward, all seniors will be required to pass as a prerequisite for graduation.
''This is serious,'' Knowles warned. ''We face the prospect that up to two-thirds of our high school students aren't on track for a diploma under the current exit exam law. That's neither acceptable, nor fair.''
A variety of approaches are being offered for grappling with this impending crisis.
The State School board is calling for the effective date of the exams to be rolled back several years. Knowles supports this view, but stressed that pressure has to be maintained for improvements.
''Let's agree that we won't retreat from higher standards,'' the governor said, ''but we will give every child the opportunity and time to master them.''
Others have proposed lowering the scores established as passing grades, then possibly stepping up the requirements in years to come, reflecting expected improvements in the preparation of subsequent classes. Some simply take the alarming scores as a measure of insufficient school funding, and would respond by better funding Alaska schools.
It's now apparent that some Alaska schools are failing in their job of preparing students to meet that new state-mandated standard. We cannot simply sit idly by and accept that a sizable portion of students, many of whom have received decent grades for years on end, many of whom attended school diligently, may be denied the fundamental opportunities opened by a high school diploma.
Passage of a law with callous indifference towards what are shaping up as truly disastrous consequences can only earn everyone involved failing grades.
This is clearly a situation warranting thoughtful examination in Juneau, followed by some form of timely intervention. That strongly suggests action is needed before lawmakers complete their business in May.
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