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Empire Editorial: When two is less than one, subtraction is the answer

Posted: February 14, 2014 - 12:04am

This month, the Alaska Legislature’s education subcommittees are considering four competing measures that would eliminate the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.

Among the four is a proposal included as part of Gov. Sean Parnell’s omnibus education package. When it comes to the exit test, we agree with the governor.

The test was first given to high school seniors in 1998 to ensure they were ready for college. If you don’t pass the test, you don’t get a diploma. Pass it, and you’re certified ready to graduate.

The test is now administered sophomore year, allowing students two years to take it again if they fail. But Alaskan students aren’t stupid. If they pass the test sophomore year, they know they can turn the remaining two years of high school into a pleasure cruise of electives and free time. Some students now take the test as early as eighth grade, seeing it as the last barrier to an easy high school career — or worse, a sign they don’t need high school at all.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, students with learning disabilities may struggle with the test, taking it again and again, postponing secondary education in order to pass this mandatory hurdle.

The test was designed as a measuring stick, but those testifying before the Senate Education Committee on Monday called it “obsolete.”

Next year, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development will implement a new testing scheme for students from third through 11th grades. If the state fails to eliminate the graduation exam, high school sophomores will face three standardized tests. Students learning English will take a fourth test.

More testing means less time for basic instruction by teachers. Students will acquire fewer skills, and schools will suffer.

The state board of education realizes this. Two weeks ago, it unanimously approved a resolution calling for the test to be repealed. The graduation exam, the board said, costs $2 million per year and “is not an appropriate means of measuring college and career readiness.”

We agree.

It’s time for the state to learn addition by subtraction.

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