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Lawmakers also should face passing standard in order to be re-elected

-- Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - March 12

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2001

It's been three years since Alaska legislators passed a law making the Class of 2002's diplomas contingent upon each public school student's passage of standardized tests in reading, writing and math.

Exit exams, as they are commonly called, were seen as a useful means of pressuring schools to ensure Alaska graduates enter the working world possessing ''essential skills.''

In that spirit, we have a few questions for lawmakers now grappling with unintended consequences of their statutory pursuit of educational excellence.

1. How do you propose responding to the high failure rate seen on the math portion of the exam, where the outcome of the first two rounds of testing suggest one-third or more of current juniors may be denied a diploma next year? A) Give speeches railing about the importance of holding schools accountable. B) Leave it to education officials to lower the passing scores, then convene hearings and blast the teaching community's apparent lack of commitment in maintaining academic standards. C) Accept the governor's call for postponement of the diploma requirement until the contents of the exam are compared with what's being taught in Alaska schools.

2. How would you interpret the data showing disproportionately higher rates of failure, in some cases 100 percent, among current juniors enrolled in rural Alaska schools? A) Read the results as an invitation to cut funding to school districts that don't make the grade. B) Shrug off warnings that Alaska faces certain lawsuits if the exit exam results in the issuance or denial of diplomas along apparent racial lines. (Begin drafting speech, meanwhile, to denounce inevitable court mandate for increased spending on rural schools.) C) Steel yourself to accept that some kids, even those with good grades, may not deserve diplomas. D) Take the outcome as further evidence the exam requirement ought to be postponed while Alaska confronts what amounts to a systemic problem in its approach to educating rural students.

3. How should Alaska educators go about upholding the exit exam requirement for special education students? A) Give floor speech taking no position other than to point out that no other state has come up with a successful approach to defending exit exams against legal challenges brought under the American Disabilities Act and other non-discrimination statutes. B) Leave it to state education officials to reconcile the state law's mandate for universal standards with the real-life complexities of special ed students schooled with the use of individual education plans. C) Ignore this one completely, trusting that you'll be out of office before the mass of legal challenges hits the U.S. Supreme Court. If the questions appear difficult, don't be discouraged. The important thing is the message embodied by Juneau's insistence on tough standards for graduates of Alaska public schools.

By the way, the above test is to be scored by awarding one point for each correct answer. Four points are required for any lawmaker seeking re-election. That passing standard was established by a special panel of our own creation, and tasked with seeking improvements in legislative performance.

Schools aren't the only publicly-funded operation subject to scrutiny by Alaskans holding what may be unrealistic expectations.



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