ANCHORAGE - Anchorage Democratic lawmakers have introduced three bills to change state law so students could receive a diploma without passing the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam.
The future of the bills depends largely on Sen. Con Bunde, an Anchorage Republican, who is considered the father of the exit exam. A former teacher, Bunde said Tuesday he opposes removing the exam as a graduation requirement.
"If it depends on me, no, (the bills) are not going to pass," Bunde said.
The test - commonly called the exit exam - consists of three parts: reading, writing and math. This year's seniors are the first who must pass it to receive a diploma.
Reps. Les Gara and Harry Crawford and Sen. Gretchen Guess want Alaska to keep the exit exam but eliminate it as a graduation requirement. They say it's unfair to base graduation on a single test.
Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, said he has met with teachers and students who adamantly oppose the test.
"Because you just can't make tests perfect," he said. "I don't mind the testing. But I think the education community has made a good point - that denying somebody a diploma based on an imperfect test is poor policy."
Guess said she doesn't want to get rid of the exit exam entirely. But she doesn't think someone who has achieved all the other requirements for graduation should be denied a diploma because he or she hasn't passed it.
"I don't want to get rid of it," she said. "I'm continually looking for a compromise to ensure everyone who has passed their classes and knows their standards receives a diploma."
Nineteen states had exit exams in 2003, with five others, including Alaska, phasing in tests by 2008. In the past year, many of these states have amended, postponed or changed their exit exams.
Alaska law originally said the test would apply to all students graduating in 2002 or later. But in 2002, the Legislature delayed the exam's effective date to 2004.
Since that time, the state and school districts have had plenty of time to prepare for and work with the test, said Debra Mullins, president of the Association of Alaska School Boards.
Bunde said the test has made teaching more focused and principals tell him it has improved attendance and gotten the attention of students.
But he also said some principals have suggested the exit exam be treated as just another test - not as a graduation requirement.
"It's a bad idea that you say, 'These are the requirements,' and then when you get right up to having to meet them, you say, 'Nevermind, there's been a lot of complaints, there's too much pressure,' " Bunde said. "Well, what kind of message does that send?"