The Senate Finance Committee on Monday approved a bill that would delay the high school exit exam requirement until 2004.
Although students wouldn't have to pass the test to graduate until 2004, those graduating before that would still have to take the test, under the proposed bill. They'd receive an endorsement on their diploma and transcript for the subject areas they passed.
The Finance Committee made no changes to the bill that came to it after weeks of work in the Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee, which sponsored the bill.
Current law requires students in the class of 2002 to pass the reading, writing and math test. However, almost two-thirds of those students failed the test when they took it last year as sophomores, prompting Gov. Tony Knowles and others to call for a delay.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, tried unsuccessfully Monday to amend the bill to put off the requirement until 2006, the date called for by Knowles and the state Board of Education.
Hoffman pointed to testimony by the state Department of Education that the state would be in a stronger position to defend itself against lawsuits with the later date because it would be able to show that students had been given ample opportunity to learn the material.
"Having this whole exam hold up in court is really important," Hoffman said.
The amendment failed 5-2 with only Sen. Donny Olson, a Nome Democrat, voting with Hoffman.
Sen. Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican, said that if legislators receive information in the next three years that indicates they should further delay the test, they can change the law again.
"To give it now, I think, is unnecessary," Leman said. The exam requirement is prompting some students to take school more seriously, and too much delay would undermine that, he said.
"I think we have the momentum going now, and I would sure hate to see us lose momentum," Leman said.
In addition to the two-year delay, the bill also would allow students with disabilities to use aids, such as calculators, or complete an alternative assessment if they fail the exam.
And it would allow waivers to be granted for some students. The Department of Education is to develop the rules for when waivers should be granted and report back to the Legislature in 2003.
The bill could come up for a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the week.