Diplomas could be earned without test

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Sen. Lyda Green is floating a plan to revamp the high school exit exam requirement that would let students who fail the test earn diplomas if they meet certain conditions.

Green's plan would addresses one of the toughest issues facing the Legislature -- the prospect that the mandatory tests may deny diplomas to many students when the requirement goes into effect in 2002.

In addition, Green said, the state will face lawsuits if it remains on its current path of requiring all high school students to pass reading, writing and math tests before receiving a diploma.

''This would change the focus of the exam,'' Green, R-Mat-Su, told members of her Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee on Wednesday as she presented the idea she hopes to have in bill form by the end of the week.

''This is a very, very, very broad road map,'' Green said of her proposal, modeled after an Indiana statute that allows three methods for receiving a diploma.

While still taking shape, the idea is gaining traction among some legislators.

Sen. Gary Wilken applauded Green's effort. He said most lawmakers don't want to simply move back the effective date of the current exam requirement to 2006, as Gov. Tony Knowles has requested.

''I think you've read the mood of the Legislature,'' said Wilken, R-Fairbanks. ''Just postponing it will not do it.''

The plan would phase in exams over the next few years.

Students scheduled to graduate this year and next would receive a diploma if they maintained a ''C'' average and had a 95 percent attendance record. The results of the exit exams would appear on their high school transcripts -- if they passed the tests.

If they failed, they would still need the ''C'' average in course work and good attendance to graduate. They would also have to take remedial courses for each subject they failed on the exit exam and get recommendations from a teacher or principal before getting a diploma.

Beginning in 2004, students would still have to take the exit exam, maintain a ''C'' average and have 95 percent attendance to graduate. But five different diplomas would be issued to show students' abilities.

A ''diploma of advanced mastery'' would be the highest level; a ''diploma of foundational mastery'' would reflect academic proficiency. A ''diploma of vocational/technological mastery'' would be based on vo-tech studies. The fourth would be a ''diploma of mastery of individual education plan,'' for special-needs students.

The final level, a ''diploma of minimum competency,'' would show that the student attended school but failed the exit exam. Students would need to take remedial courses and gather recommendations before graduating with one of these diplomas.

Committee member Sen. Jerry Ward agreed with Green's contention that withholding diplomas from students who fail one of the exit tests, even if they pass their classes, may land the state in court, as it has with other states with similar plans.

''If you have a competency test, there's a lot of trouble that goes along with it,'' said Ward, R-Anchorage.

Ward said that he is working on a bill that would create an Alaska High School Diploma given to all graduating students. Each diploma would include an entry saying whether the student was proficient in reading, writing and math, based on the results of their exit exams.

Committee member Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, said she liked the idea of toughening attendance requirements, but she opposed requiring students to maintain a ''C'' average to graduate.

''Many students graduating have less than a ''C'' average,'' Davis said. ''According to the grading system we have, you can pass a course with a ''D.''

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