January 22: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on graduation exam requirements:

Posted: Monday, January 22, 2001

For whatever reason, 200 local members of the Class of 2002 have yet to take the state's required new exit exams.

There are 968 juniors enrolled in the Fairbanks School District. That 22 percent rate of noncompliance is one of the more disturbing aspects of the school board's recent briefing on the districtwide progress grooming its students to meet the state's new graduation exam requirement.

Letters have been sent to the parents of students who failed to take the battery of tests the first two times they were offered.

Some of those students undoubtedly have good excuses. Others are, perhaps, banking on the prospects for a political reprieve. The timing of the Alaska State School Board's request for postponement of the exam requirement for several years -- coming as it did on the eve of this fall's test date -- may have encouraged some juniors to dodge the tests on the wishful assumption that it won't matter.

Gov. Tony Knowles has joined the state school board in calling for deferral of the graduation requirement by four years. Given the dismal showing of many of the students who have taken the exams to date, lawmakers may have no choice but to amend law linking the issuance of high school diplomas to passage of all three components of the test by spring 2002.

After two rounds of testing, last spring and this fall, roughly two thirds of Fairbanks juniors have yet to achieve a passing score in one or more of the examination areas. Passage rates are reportedly much worse in most Bush schools.

No, lawmakers may not have a choice but to put off the year in which the obtaining a certain score on the exams is mandatory for graduation. Otherwise it seems likely the test requirements will return to haunt the state in court; a judge might well conclude that additional funding must be directed at schools whose graduating classes fail to make the grade.

As much as lawmakers might wish to hold schools and teachers accountable, it could cost the state a bundle if they force students to meet a standard for which so many are apparently not prepared.

But there should be no retreat from the long-term goal of establishing a threshold of learning for all Alaska high school graduates.

Our public schools must continue working toward preparing every student to meet desired standards. While the date for achievement of certain scores may need adjustment, the requirement of taking tests themselves should and must stick. How else can we track the progress of our individual students, their respective schools, and districts as a whole?

Failure to take the state's tests should result in denial of a diploma. That bottom-line incentive is needed to maintain pressure for excellence in every school, by every student.

And that suggests diplomas remain very much at risk for the 200 Fairbanks juniors who missed out on the first two rounds of testing.

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