Education baord approves alternative exams

Posted: Sunday, March 26, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state Board of Education has approved alternative performance standards for students with severe learning disabilities.

The tests approved Friday would measure the achievement of students unable to take part in the state's standard assessment system, the benchmark exams and the high school graduation qualifying exam, said Bruce Johnson, Alaska's deputy education commissioner.

When the exam system was established, Johnson said, some feared that students with special needs would not receive as much attention and would not reach their full potential.

''What this does is make sure that people are thinking very, very carefully about the education of these students,'' he said. ''What we don't want to have happen is any segment of our population to be lost.''

The alternative standards are grouped into three categories: English and language arts, mathematics, and ''skills for a healthy life.'' Specific skills required by the standards vary.

Eve Lambert, special education director for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, said that while special education teachers support having high standards for their students, some are concerned about a single set of standards being used to assess a diverse student population.

''We have standards ... for every student, but they are all different based on each student's particular needs,'' Lambert said. ''The question mark is is there such a tool out there that you can measure the special needs students by.''

Johnson says the alternative standards are just that. He emphasized that they are standards, not a single test that every student must pass.

A sticking point is what to give a student who completes school under the alternative standards. Johnson said it won't be a diploma.

''If the disability is severe enough to warrant alternate standards and alternate assessments, then they are not on a track to receive a high school diploma,'' he said.

That's wrong, said Sam Bush, a Fairbanks advocate for special needs families. Students who meet the goals of the new standards and pass all of the assessments should be recognized for that, she said.

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