Alaska educators are welcoming a push by state lawmakers to get rid of the high-school graduation qualifying exam. With students statewide preparing to take the test in the next three days, educators say it's not needed any more.
When you talk about what a diploma actually means, Eagle River High School Principal Marty Lang says for students, the ultimate goal is for them to be ready to be successful once they leave their high school's doors.
"How do we deal with students who are struggling to meet minimum proficiency skills?" said Lang. "We have to prepare them for college, prepare them for vocational program, or (the) military."
For the past ten years, the high school graduation qualifying exam was designed to figure out the answer to that question.
"We begin testing in 10th grade to measure whether or not students have met that mark -- and if not, to make sure that we built an appropriate pathway for them in the next couple of years to make sure they leave with those skills," Lang said.
Some say the high-stakes test to assess those skills has pushed some Alaska students over the edge. Since it was first administered in 2004, almost 3,000 students statewide did not pass.
About 950 of them came from the Anchorage School District, and state officials say 48 percent of the total were students who had disabilities.
"Some may say we punished those students, and didn't allow them to get a diploma because of their disability," said Mike Hanley, the commissioner of the state Department of Education and Early Development.
Eagle River High School counselor Tom Rollman has been the school's exit exam test coordinator since it opened. He says every year, he sees seniors who do not know if they are going to pass or not.
Rollman says one of his current students is feeling the stress. Even though she's fulfilled all graduation requirements, she's having trouble passing the math section -- a factor that many educators say is not a fair representation of what a student is learning.
"Not passing this test is not going to be an indicator of how successful she is going to be in life," Rollman said.
With the high-school exit exam based off of eighth-grade learning, educators say it's really just a minimum standard to gauge a student's progress. Getting rid of it won't change their focus, because they say they already push students to achieve even more.
In addition, Hanley points out that new tests like the Standards-Based Assessment are more accurate and tougher in showing levels of proficiency than the current exit exam.
"We are expecting more of our students, we are setting the bar higher to help them be more successful," Hanley said.
By monitoring students at an earlier age, educators say they can determine where they are academically to make sure they get all the help they need.
"If the high school graduation qualifying exam is no longer a requirement, we feel like that's going to buy back some significant instructional minutes for kids," Lang said.
House Bill 220, which would repeal the high school exit exam, has already passed the state House and is sitting in the Senate. If passed, any student who did not receive their diploma, would get it retroactively going back to 2004.
State officials say no other graduation requirement would change.