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Educators comment on test, alternatives

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2001

JUNEAU -- Several school administrators and teachers told a Senate committee Saturday they're glad someone's come up with another approach to the state's high-stakes high school exit exam.

But they didn't like all the details of Sen. Lyda Green's proposal, which would award different types of diplomas to students depending on their level of achievement. And some worried it's a step back from the high standards the state had been trying to set for students.

A 1997 law requires all students, starting with the class of 2002, to pass state reading, writing and math tests to receive a diploma. Many people became worried when two-thirds of sophomores tested last spring failed the math test. Gov. Tony Knowles asked the Legislature to delay the exam requirement until 2006, but some Republican lawmakers don't want to do that.

Green, R-Wasilla, proposed an alternative plan last week, which is based on Indiana law.

Green proposes initially letting students who fail the exam graduate if they have a ''C'' average, a 95 percent attendance rate and teacher and principal recommendations. They also would have to complete remedial classes in the subjects they failed on the exit exam. Exam scores would be shown on their transcripts.

Students with disabilities could receive a diploma by meeting the same requirements, plus a recommendation from the team that develops their individual education plan. They could also take alternative tests.

Starting in 2004, Green proposes going to a new system in which students receive diplomas with one of different ''endorsements'' based on their level of mastery.

They range from a college prep student's diploma of advanced mastery to a diploma of mastery of individual education plan for students with disabilities to a diploma of minimum competency.

Some teachers and administrators said Green's proposal is preferable to the current law.

''I like the idea of different levels for graduation requirements,'' said Jerry Dixon, a Seward teacher. ''I also like the idea of phasing it in.''

Sharon Swope, interim schools superintendent in Nome, saw it as a good alternative for disabled students, those whose first language isn't English and those with other problems that keep them from succeeding in school.

But Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, expressed concern the proposal is a retreat from high standards. He worried about using attendance and grades to award diplomas. Schools have been trying to move away from the idea of education based on ''seat time'' or simply showing up for class, he said, and using a grade point average could simply lead to grade inflation.

''To supplant Alaska standards with Indiana standards could be detrimental, it could be confusing, it could send the wrong message,'' Rose said.

He supports delaying the test until 2004 and letting professionals work out problems with the test and its implementation.

Others worried the five different diplomas signify a return to ''tracking,'' a system in which students believed to be college material are steered into one course track and those who aren't are steered into other classes. Critics say that approach may limit students' potential. Tammy Smith, a Fairbanks teacher, worried a student might aim only for a vocational diploma but decide later on to go to college and find it difficult to get in.

''Could we actually be inhibiting potential growth later on?'' she asked.

Michael Jones, a Nome teacher, applauded Green for trying to come up with an alternative approach to the exit exam, but worried the five different diplomas could lead to a ''caste system.''

Those working with special education students had been particularly worried the test could stop those students from graduating and thanked Green for proposing another option for them.

Special education workers did disagree, however, with labeling the diploma ''mastery of individual education plan,'' which they said would disclose that the student had a disability and be a breach of confidentiality.

Green said her proposal is simply a suggestion at this point and she welcomes input. A bill incorporating it hasn't been introduced yet. The Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee has scheduled more hearings next week.



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