School board looks at exit exam delay

Posted: Friday, December 08, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Another 1,100 Alaska high school students passed the state exit exams during testing in October.

But officials with the state Department of Education said thousands of other students have not yet passed and could be denied diplomas in 2002, the first year the tests will be required for graduation.

''What about the kids we're leaving behind?'' asked state Board of Education member Mike Williams of Akiak.

At a work session in Anchorage on Thursday, the board was preparing a case for delaying the Jan. 1, 2002, date by which Alaska students will be required to pass the exams to earn diplomas. The decision on whether to delay when the tests take effect will be up to the Legislature.

The board also began considering whether it could legally offer different kinds of tests to some students, including those with disabilities, who don't do well on the kind of exams currently in use.

The state tests in reading, writing and math include multiple-choice questions, questions that require short written answers and questions requiring longer written answers. Alternatives might include having a student prepare a portfolio of work.

State officials estimate there are 10,000 students in the first class affected by the new state law, those who are juniors this year. They have multiple chances to pass the exams starting when they are sophomores. Only 8,500 of them even took the first tests last March as sophomores, though the testing was supposed to be mandatory.

The state education department is investigating why 1,500 kids didn't show up for the tests in March and is asking districts with the worst test attendance to explain what happened, said Bruce Johnson, deputy education commissioner.

Failing any one of the three parts of the test means no diploma. About 2,700 students passed the math test in March, and another 1,100 passed in the October retake. That leaves 6,000 students who still have to pass the math test to graduate.

Of those who failed the March math test, about 2,000 were so far away from the passing score that it seems unlikely they'll make it, according to charts produced by Nick Stayrook of Fairbanks, a test consultant for the education department.

Another 3,000 students were within a hundred points of passing on the scoring scale, which runs from 100 to 600.

The board and Gov. Tony Knowles have proposed delaying the consequences of the exit exams. The board this week plans to consider a more specific resolution for the Legislature that tells why it wants a delay and when it believes the state should begin denying diplomas based on the test scores.

The state also wants to set up committees in January to re-examine everything it has created so far -- the standards, the test questions and the cut-off scores.

''The system we feel is about 85 percent to 90 percent in good shape,'' Stayrook said. ''It needs tweaking.''

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