School officials seek exit exam appeals process

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Administrators with the Fairbanks school district want to see an appeals process built into the law governing the high school exit exam.

But the local school board should not be hearing those appeals.

''We are strongly opposed to making appeals to the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam a local responsibility,'' said Nick Stayrook, director of program planning and evaluation for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Stayrook and others say a state appeals board should be established.

Stayrook, along with a handful of other local residents, spoke Thursday evening at a meeting hosted by the state Department of Education and Early Development.

The hearing dealt with Senate Bill 133, which was passed by the Legislature last session. The bill gives school districts the authority to grant waivers of the exam requirement in certain broad circumstances: students who enter Alaska public schools late in their school careers, those who have already passed another state's competency exam, and those who have ''rare and unusual'' circumstances. It is up to the education department to create specific criteria and procedures for waivers.

SB 133 also charged the education department with proposing an appeals process, according to state school board Vice Chairman Ernie Hall.

''Such an appeals process does not currently exist,'' Hall said, and the Legislature may or may not create one.

Stayrook said the Legislature made a good decision when it made provisions for waivers and appeals. The purpose of the statewide testing system is consistency, he noted, which is why the district supports a statewide appeals board rather than a local one.

Stayrook said local boards might grant all appeals, since denial could result in lawsuits against a school district.

''By placing the appeals process in the hands of the local districts the intended consistency would be lost,'' he said.

Stayrook said the district supports granting waivers to students who have passed another state's test. He said the waiver should apply only to students in 10th grade or higher, and that the other state's test should measure standards similar to Alaska's test.

Students who come into the district -- either from other states or from private schools -- in their senior year should be allowed a waiver as well, Stayrook said.

The district recommends that the state appeals board be charged with hearing cases of ''rare and unusual'' circumstances, he added.

Several people also spoke of the need to make sure the appeal and waiver processes contain provisions to address the needs of special education students, some of whom may never pass the exit exam.

''I'd like to see the state develop alternate pathways to a diploma,'' said West Valley special education teacher Lori Anderson.

Hall said the comments in Fairbanks closely mirrored those heard statewide.

The department will hold two more meetings on the issues, one in Juneau on Nov. 7 and a statewide teleconference on Nov. 5.



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