Legislators may give students a reprieve on exit test

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska students will probably get at least a partial reprieve from the requirement they pass a reading, writing and math test to receive a diploma starting in 2002.

Although Republican majority lawmakers are showing no interest in Gov. Tony Knowles' plan to delay the graduation requirement until 2006, several Republicans are floating ideas of their own that would give students more time to master the test material.

When sophomores took the test for the first time last spring, about two-thirds failed the math section. The results have led to fears of large numbers of students not graduating in 2002.

Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said he plans to introduce a bill that would delay the test as a graduation requirement until 2004. Students in the meantime would still take the test, and if they passed sections of it, that would be noted on their transcripts or diploma.

A proposal by Sen. Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, wouldn't require the exam for graduation, but students who passed it would receive an endorsement on their diplomas for each subject area they passed. Those who didn't pass would have the Alaska flag symbol placed on their diploma.

Sen. Lyda Green, R-Mat-Su, has proposed letting students who fail the test graduate as long as they have at least a C average, a 95 percent attendance rate and teachers' and principals' recommendations. She also suggested, starting in 2004, putting different levels of endorsement on students' diploma, depending on their level of academic mastery.

And Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the House will probably come up with its own exit exam legislation early next month.

''I think it's probably safe to say at this point the math test will be off the table,'' said Bunde, who is chairman of the House Special Committee on Education. He expects the Department of Education and Early Development will redraft that section of the test.

''The questions will be then, 'When will the reading and writing portions be required to get a diploma?''' Bunde said. ''I don't think we have a consensus yet on whether that should be 2002 or 2003, but I think there's a pretty firm consensus that 2006 is off the table.''

What will emerge at the end of the session is still unclear. None of the proposals, except for Ward's, is even in bill form yet.

''The thing is still a fruit basket upset at this point,'' Bunde said. ''I don't purport to have all the answers on this, and we'll be looking for the wisdom of all members.''

Carl Rose, chairman of the Association of Alaska School Boards, said school boards believe the solution lies in a combination of the three Senate proposals.

The association prefers a two-year delay to Knowles and the State Board of Education's proposed four-year delay.

''We think going to 2006 may relieve too much pressure,'' Rose said.

Among other benefits, a two-year delay would provide time for schools to make sure they've given students an opportunity to master the test material and give the department time to make sure the test is valid and to decide how students with disabilities should be tested, Rose said.

Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the Department of Education and Early Development, said the department still backs a four-year delay in the exit exam.

''There's a lot of work that remains to be done before the exam is the best it can be,'' Gamble said.

Rose and a number of lawmakers believe the department will need to change the math test to provide more emphasis on arithmetic and less emphasis on algebra and geometry.

Some have complained it goes beyond the minimum requirement students should meet to graduate because it tests algebra and geometry, although others say those subjects are necessary for students to compete in the modern job market.

Legislators have expressed concern that some schools don't even teach algebra and geometry. That led Green to propose requiring school districts to provide a list of all the classes they offer and who teaches them.

Rose of the School Boards Association said some very small schools do struggle to offer those classes because they may have just one teacher for all subjects and that teacher may not have a math background.

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