Knowles bill calls for delay in state exit exam

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles introduced a bill Wednesday that would delay until 2006 a requirement that students pass a reading, writing and math test to graduate from high school.

This year's seventh-graders would be the first class required to pass the test if legislators agree to change the deadline. If they don't change the law students in the class of 2002 -- this year's juniors -- must pass the test.

Speaking before a class at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, Knowles said students and schools need more time and more resources to prepare.

During the first round of testing in March 2000 only a third of students, who were then sophomores, passed the math section of the test. About half passed the writing test and three-quarters passed the reading. Those results raised the specter of thousands of students being denied diplomas in 2002.

''I want to make sure this law is responsible and fair,'' Knowles told the students. ''We have a formula we believe will make you a success in school and in life.''

The formula, Knowles said, has four parts: raising the standards students must meet; testing periodically to see how they're progressing; holding schools and students accountable for meeting the standards; and helping students catch up if they're not learning what they need.

''We know if we don't have any part of that formula right, we'll get the wrong answer,'' Knowles said.

Under the legislation students graduating before 2006 would still have to take the exit test, and they'd have to take it seriously, Knowles said, because the score would go on their transcripts.

The delay would not only give students more time to prepare, it would give the state more time to review results of the first exams and help ensure that when the first diplomas are denied, they aren't denied unfairly, Knowles said.

Education Commissioner Shirley Holloway said the state also needs time to wrestle with the question of what to require of special education students, those whose first language isn't English and those who enter Alaska schools late in their high school days.

Alaska should not lower its standards as some other states have done when faced with the prospect of students failing a high school exit exam, Knowles said.

Some question whether the math section -- which tests algebra and geometry -- asks students to meet too high a standard.

Association of Alaska School Boards Executive Director Carl Rose said he believes students can reach that goal, but he questioned whether all classes now have the curriculum and quality of instruction to help them do so.

State Board of Education member Sally Rue said the test continues to be reviewed and she didn't rule out the possibility of change, although she said the state should stick with the standards generally.

''There may be some things on the test that we decide all kids don't actually need to know,'' Rue said.

Some Republican legislative leaders have expressed skepticism about the value of delaying the effective date, but have not ruled it out.

''I have not seen how a delay would change anything,'' Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said. ''There may be. I just haven't seen it.''

A delay would devalue students' diplomas and take away a powerful motivation for students to study hard, he said.

House Speaker Brian Porter said he wants to hear from the Department of Education about why a delay is needed before he makes up his mind on the issue.

Others in the Republican majority say they do favor a delay, as do many Democrats in the minority. Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said a couple of extra years would help get students the extra help they need, as well as getting the attention of their parents.

The House Special Committee on Education will take comments on the exit exam from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. The public can testify at the Capitol or through local Legislative Information Offices.

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