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Finances hold up high school exit exam repeal

Posted: March 5, 2014 - 1:04am

One of the proposals to repeal Alaska’s high school exit exam is stuck in a House committee drawer while the financial implications of the bill are worked out.

The House finance committee considered HB220 Tuesday, but did not advance the bill despite widespread support for the concept. Members said details about the state’s contract with its test provider were unclear.

“This test did not do it’s job,” Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said. “I want to make sure people out there don’t think we’re doing away with something that worked.”

If the Alaska Legislature cancels the exam, Alaska will save about $2.75 million annually starting next year, said Tom Studler, staff to Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks.

The test will still be administered at the two regular times next school year — October and April — so people who have failed it before or fail it this year get a chance to get their diploma before the exam is completely eliminated, said Higgins, the bill’s primary sponsor.

The state’s contract with the contractor that proctors the test has already been paid through next school year. The House bill would stop that contract and remove the test from the graduation requirements. Earlier testimony outlined problems with the test, including its obsolescent format.

“This was the most economic and feasible way to give everyone a last shot at getting their high school diploma,” Higgins told the committee. “We’re trying to make it so everyone has an opportunity.”

Les Morse, deputy commissioner for the Department of Education and Early Development, told the committee that the state would advertise the change and reach out to individuals who have not passed the exam.

Mike Coons of Palmer told lawmakers they should make the law retroactive for the last two to four years so recent graduates are not at a significant disadvantage over current students.

“If the kid has fulfilled all the other components except this silly test, give them the diploma and let them move on with their life,” Coons said.

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