Education officials outline exemptions for exit exam takers

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State education officials have come up with proposed guidelines to determine which students should be exempt from the state's high school graduation qualifying exam.

Students who break their arms, go blind, have severe learning disabilities or suffer a family member's death may not have to pass the test to earn a diploma.

The state Board of Education reviewed the suggested waivers and appeals guidelines Monday in Anchorage. The report will be presented to the state Legislature on Friday.

The report suggests an appeals process for test takers who think they deserve diplomas despite failing one or more of the three exams covering reading, writing and math.

Students graduating in 2004 or later are required to pass the tests to graduate. Those who fail will get a certificate of achievement.

Ed McLain, deputy commissioner of education, said the suggested waivers and appeals take into account months of public testimony and address practical and philosophical issues of requiring a graduation test.

The report says a student who moves to Alaska after passing another state's standards-based exit exams during or after his 10th-grade year shouldn't have to pass Alaska's for a diploma. About 20 other states require students to pass tests to graduate, McLain said.

Students who move into Alaska during the final year of high school and meet all other state and district graduation requirements would also be excused.

State education officials also think students with ''rare or unusual circumstances'' should be exempt, McLain said. This would account, for instance, for the student whose test answer sheet gets lost in the mail or if a teacher forgets to give the students the tests.

If a student were suddenly or severely injured or had a parent or close relative die just before the exam, that could qualify the student for an exemption, McLain said.

Students with severe cognitive disabilities would also be excused. There are currently about 77 such students statewide.

Education officials decided earlier that teens enrolled in special education could qualify to take modified exit exams, allowing for the use of a calculator or thesaurus, for example.

The state's report recommends that a state appeals board would address such exit exam-related matters as waivers for rare and unusual circumstances.

An actual test score could not be appealed.

The state board approved the suggestions Monday with no major suggestions.

''I don't think this requires any action accept a hip-hip hooray,'' chairwoman Susan Stitham said. ''And we hope the Legislature will be particularly dazzled.''

After the Legislature reviews the report, the board could draft regulations, said Beth Nordland, Department of Education legislative liaison.

Though the tests aren't required until 2004, Commissioner of Education Shirley Holloway encouraged board members to approve a waivers and appeals process sooner rather than later.

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