Alternative Diplomas Not Addressed in Financial Aid Rules

Alternative Diplomas Not Addressed in Financial Aid Rules

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- High school seniors failing the state's new basic skills test still can go to college, but it is not known whether they will be eligible for federal financial aid.

Students failing the test may received an alternative completion diploma.

Federal financial aid regulations define a equivalent high school diploma as a GED, or a state certificate awarded following a high-school equivalency test, but there is no mention of an alternative completion diploma.

Some believe it might require aid-seekers to take an "ability to benefit assessment" first, said attorney Carol Lear, government and legislative relations director at the state Office of Education.

But that might mean requiring another test for students who don't test well.

Education officials said they will seek clarification from the U.S. Department of Education.

"If the U.S. Department of Education is going to have a problem, let's figure it out now before we start issuing federal financial aid and find out they have a question about it," said Amanda Covington, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education. "Let's do it right the first time."

All Utah students, starting with this year's seniors, have to pass the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test, which measures reading, writing and math, to receive a basic high school diploma.

Students must pass all test sections, and may take the exams five times. If they don't, but try the test at least three times, they can receive an alternative completion diploma. Anything less could net a certificate of completion.

When school started this year, anywhere from 6,100 to 9,300 of 36,000 seniors were failing one or more parts of the test, according to state data and a Deseret Morning News analysis.

Seniors had a chance to take the test again last month. Results are not yet available.

Both diplomas denote high school graduation in Utah.

School leaders have wondered how the alternative diploma will be treated.

"It's a new thing," said Tom Hicks, executive director of the Brighton K-12 Feeder System in the Jordan School District. "So (what will be) the reaction of colleges, the reaction of financial assistance, the reaction of the military? Those questions have not been answered."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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