Three Republican senators are pushing separate proposals that would take some pressure off high school students facing a mandatory competency test next year.
All of the plans would postpone or repeal a provision in current law that would deny diplomas to students who fail a reading, writing and math exam starting in 2002. State education officials have said many students probably will fail the test if the effective date is not pushed back. Gov. Tony Knowles wants to postpone it until 2006.
Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman said although he believes the 2002 effective date is reasonable, he put forward an alternate plan because many people have testified schools aren't ready for the high-stakes test.
"We're hearing testimony that perhaps even some school districts haven't been teaching some of the what I consider basic classes that would prepare students for it," said Leman, vice chairman of the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee, which has been taking testimony on the exam.
Leman's proposal would push back the effective date two years. From 2002 to 2004, students would still take the exam, but they wouldn't be denied a diploma if they failed. Instead, schools would indicate, or endorse, on diplomas or transcripts which portions of the test students passed.
"You still take the exam and still have a consequence from the exam," said Leman, an Anchorage Republican. "You either get your endorsement or you don't get the endorsement."
The endorsement provision would automatically end in 2004. Then students would have to pass the test to get a diploma.
Sen. Jerry Ward introduced a similar proposal Monday. His plan would repeal the 2002 effective date and require schools to endorse on diplomas the portions of the test students passed, rather than deny diplomas to students who fail the exam. However, Ward's endorsement provision would not automatically end in 2004, as in Leman's proposal.
"I'm not certain I want it to sunset," said Ward, an Anchorage Republican who also serves on the committee. "This may in fact be the way we would give the high school diploma."
Leman said his proposal is a simpler approach than one floated by Republican Sen. Lyda Green, chairwoman of the committee. Under Green's plan, all students would be required to have a C average and a 95 percent attendance record to graduate, regardless of how they scored on the test.
Under her plan, the exam requirements would be phased in over a few years. From 2002 to 2004, students would still take the exam and scores would appear on their high school transcripts. Those who failed would have to complete remedial classes and get recommendations from a teacher or principal before getting a diploma.
Starting in 2004, schools would issue five types of diplomas, depending on the level of achievement of each student: a Diploma of Advanced Mastery indicating academic mastery; a Diploma of Foundational Mastery indicating academic proficiency; a Diploma of Vocational/Technological Mastery for students who performed well in voc-tech studies; a Diploma of Mastery of Individual Education Plan for special-needs students; and a Diploma of Basic Competency for kids who failed the competency test but still had a C average, good attendance and passed remedial classes.
Green admitted her approach is probably too complicated, but said the state should not make one exam the only basis for deciding whether students graduate.
"I think we have to find other ways to test and evaluate students besides just the one test," said Green, who represents the Matanuska and Susitna valleys.
Green emphasized her plan is just a proposal, saying "this is nothing firm." Only Ward's proposal is drafted as a bill, Senate Bill 120. Green said the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee will consider all the plans and probably develop a single bill this year.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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