Senate committee to further define exit test legislation

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A committee will start refining a bill this week that will probably be the state Senate's answer to the question of what to do about the high school exit exam.

Senate Bill 133, sponsored by the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee, was prompted by high failure rates, especially in math, on the state test that will be required for graduation starting in 2002. Gov. Tony Knowles has asked for a delay of the requirement until 2006.

SB 133 would delay the exam requirement until 2004, but students who passed parts of the test before it was required would have that noted on their diploma and transcripts.

The bill also calls for transforming the test into an ''essential skills exam'' that probably would not include the same emphasis on algebra and geometry the current test does, said Committee Chairwoman Lyda Green, R-Mat-Su.

Many of those who testified Saturday supported the changes, although they had suggestions for improvements. Green said the committee will start working on amendments this week.

Three other senators -- Anchorage Republicans Jerry Ward and Loren Leman and Anchorage Democrat Bettye Davis -- also have introduced bills on the exit exam, but Leman said some version of SB 133 will probably be what makes it to the Senate floor.

The bill lets the state Department of Education and Early Development grant waivers for students who don't pass it. Green said she envisions that would include students who move to Alaska late in high school or those with illness or other problems that prevent them from taking the test. Not providing for any exceptions has led to lawsuits in other states, Green said.

The measure would allow students with disabilities who fail the test to receive diplomas if they complete an alternative assessment called for by an individual education plan that's been created for them.

Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, said he supports the bill.

''I think it's the most comprehensive approach,'' Rose said.

He did express concern it might address too many things and become ''so heavy'' it won't pass. He also said the waiver language might be too broad.

Representatives of the Homer, Kenai and Delta Junction school districts also spoke in favor of the bill, as did a representative of the state school counselors association.

Louise Parish, the parent of a child with a learning disability in Valdez, said she likes the change to an essential skills exam, which she believes most students can pass. She worried, though, about the waiver provision.

She fears that will gives schools an ''out'' to grant waivers instead of providing appropriate education for children with disabilities.

Green said she intended the Education Department to develop rules for granting waivers and said the Legislature would ask for sideboards so the process isn't abused.

Star Patterson, a Fairbanks teacher and parent, also supported the bill, saying it's the best and most comprehensive. But she said she prefers delaying the test until 2006, and she also expressed concern that legislators not ''dumb down'' the test.

Several parents of students with disabilities expressed concerns about their children not being able to pass the test.

Green said she intends to let students use whatever accommodations they can use in their regular coursework in taking the test -- perhaps calculators or spell-checkers for some students.

Joan Bohmann, an Anchorage school psychologist, said she'd feel more comfortable if the bill specifically addressed the use of accommodations.

The House also has an exit exam measure before it. Besides the governor's proposal, Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, introduced a bill Friday to delay the exam as a graduation requirement until 2004.

Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, said the House Special Committee on Education will probably have a work session on the issue a week from Wednesday and a bill will emerge from that.

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