Special education provisions a sticking point in exit test bill

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A debate about what standard to require special education students to reach is the main sticking point that remains in a bill that would delay the high school exit exam two years.

The state Senate last month passed legislation that would delay the date when students must pass the test to receive a diploma. Current law calls for students in 2002 to pass the test; the Senate bill changes that to 2004.

The Senate bill also would allow students with disabilities another diploma path if they initially failed the exam, which tests reading, writing and math.

Under Senate Bill 133, the student's individualized educational team, which already would have been designing his general education program, could suggest modifications or an alternative assessment. If the student then passed, he would receive a diploma but would not receive endorsements on that diploma for sections he did not pass without help.

When the bill reached the House, representatives agreed with the two-year delay. However, House members removed the provision allowing a special education student to use modifications or take an alternative assessment.

Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, chairman of the House Special Committee on Education, said if students with disabilities are not held to essentially the same standard as other high school students, schools may not try as hard to provide them the education they deserve.

Under the Senate's approach, he said, an Alaska diploma in some cases might mean nothing more than mastery of a third-grade reading level.

''Let's not condemn these special needs students to mediocrity through low expectations,'' Bunde said Saturday as the House Finance Committee debated an amendment that would put the Senate provisions back in the bill.

Those who want to provide more accommodation for students with disabilities argue that Bunde's approach would deny a high school diploma to deserving students.

''These students have a variety of learning disabilities and developmental disabilities and burdens they've dealt with from birth,'' said Sen. Lyda Green, R-Matanuska-Susitna Borough. ''I'm concerned we continue to focus on what we can do to make their life more difficult in their senior year.''

Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, said Bunde's approach would mean a blind student who uses a computer reader and other technology wouldn't be able to receive a high school diploma because he couldn't demonstrate he could read the printed word.

Bunde's version of the bill would allow students to use ''accommodations'' to pass the test, according to the Department of Education and Early Development. For instance, they could be given a large print version of the test. But more significant changes, such as having the reading section read aloud or using a calculator for math, would not be permitted.

The Finance Committee did not vote on the special education amendment Saturday. Co-chairman Bill Williams said the bill will be back before the committee this week.

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