House passes bill to end high school exit exam

JUNEAU — The Alaska House on Tuesday approved a repeal of the state high school graduation exam.

The vote was 32-5. The measure now goes to the Senate.

The exit exam tests student aptitude in reading, English and mathematics.

House Bill 220, sponsored by Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, terminates the exam as soon as the bill becomes law. It allows former students who earned enough high school credits to graduate to obtain their diploma even though they failed the exam.

Passage of the bill would save the state $2.7 million in administrative costs, Higgins said. The bill includes an outreach effort to former students who may request a high school diploma.

Several of the five Republicans who voted against the bill said there needs to be some sort of standard to measure learned skills.

“I think we need minimum standards.” Anchorage Rep. Bob Lynn said. “I think a high school diploma should mean something.”

The Parnell administration originally wanted a three-year transition to give former students who held letters of achievement but not diplomas the chance to go back and take the test. Students who earned enough credits to graduate from high school but failed the high school qualifying examination receive a letter of achievement.

The bill went through several versions.

“Everyone agrees the test should be ended,” Higgins told the House Finance Committee earlier in the month. “The trick has been in finding the off ramp.”

A deadline of June 30, 2017, for former students to request a high school diploma was removed from the bill.

High school seniors are under current law and will have to pass the test, Education Commissioner Mike Hanley said. The test is offered in October and April. But if the bill becomes law before the graduation date of high school classes, seniors will be eligible to receive diplomas without passing the exit exam.

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