JUNEAU -- The state Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would put off the day students have to pass a test to get out of high school until 2004. The bill would also let some students get diplomas through waivers or alternative assessments.
Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said Senate Bill 133 accomplishes one of the priorities Republican lawmakers announced at the beginning of the session.
It maintains accountability, while giving the Department of Education and Early Development time to revise the exam and giving districts time to align their curriculum to better match it, Leman said.
''This issue, in my mind, is the most important issue we'll deal with this session,'' said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, after congratulating Health Education and Social Services Committee Chairwoman Lyda Green, R-Matanuska-Susitna Borough, for leading work on the bill.
Under current law students in the class of 2002 must pass a reading, writing and math test to graduate. About two-thirds of those students failed the test when they first took it last spring as sophomores, which led Gov. Tony Knowles and the state Board of Education to call for a delay until 2006. Many Republican lawmakers balked at providing that much more time.
Under the bill that passed the Senate, students would still have to keep taking the test, but they would not have to pass it to graduate until 2004. In the meantime, they'd receive endorsements on their diplomas and transcripts showing what parts of the test they passed.
Senate Bill 133 also would let students with disabilities who can't pass the test receive diplomas if they complete alternative assessments.
It also calls for the Board of Education to come up with rules for granting waivers to the test requirement and report back to the Legislature next year. Legislators have said they envision waivers possibly being given students who arrive in Alaska late in their high school years.
Although she voted for the bill, Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, said she would have preferred a delay to 2006 because she's not sure 2004 gives the department and schools enough time to address all the concerns surrounding the test.
Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he sees the bill as a work in progress and suspects the Legislature may need to revisit the date in two years. He also urged legislators to provide more money to schools.
''What we're doing is asking districts to do more and we haven't yet given them the financial resources so they can accomplish it,'' Elton said.
The bill now goes to the House where an education committee was working Wednesday morning on a similar bill.
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