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School boards say state should decide waivers to exit exam

Posted: Wednesday, September 10, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The Anchorage School Board has joined Fairbanks and the state school board association in saying the state not local boards should decide which students can get out of taking the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

Students graduating this school year and after must pass the exit exam to get a diploma. In Anchorage alone, hundreds are expected to fail one or more parts of the test in reading, writing and math.

The Alaska Board of Education has offered a regulation defining which students should be exempt from taking the exit exam. That could include high schoolers who enter the district late or suffer ''rare and unusual circumstances,'' including an injury or death in the family.

The proposed regulation also says local school boards will grant or deny the waivers. That is what the Legislature intended, said Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the Department of Education and Early Development.

That's not fair, said Carol Comeau, Anchorage School District superintendent.

''This is a state law, the standards were adopted by the state board, the date of testing is set by the state,'' Comeau said. ''The appropriate final decision-maker should be at the state level.''

''If they're going to create waivers, the decision ought to be made by them and not us,'' said Jake Metcalfe, Anchorage School Board president. ''It's their creature.''

The Anchorage School Board on Monday unanimously passed a resolution that said allowing local boards the power to approve or deny waivers could ''throw into doubt the fairness of the high school graduation system.'' Students in one district might get easier exemptions than students in another, Comeau said.

Also, districts do not have the time or money to deal with it, she said.

''There's going to be serious litigation, and I think it's unfair to dump this on districts when there's inadequate funding as it is for education,'' Comeau said.

The Alaska Association of School Boards unanimously passed a resolution urging the state to decide on waivers. The board in Fairbanks, the state's second-largest district, passed a similar resolution.

The Fairbanks board also disagreed with even considering ''rare and unusual circumstances'' as criteria for missing the exam, saying that ''will certainly lead to inconsistent and subjective application around the state.''

Nineteen states have exit exams. Five more, including Alaska, are implementing the tests before 2008.

Madlene Hamilton, a research associate with the Center for Education Policy, said most states handle waivers and appeals. The center is a national group that monitors exit exams and related issues.

The state Board of Education meets Sept. 19 in Anchorage to decide the waiver process. The state seeks regulations that clearly define which waivers are OK, Gamble said. That should reduce the possibility of boards being too strict or lenient.

High schoolers first take the exit exam in the spring of their sophomore year and have four more chances at it before graduation. Those who fail, but complete other graduation requirements, receive a certificate of achievement.

The Legislature has removed any limit on retakes of the test.



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