Lawmakers, Educators Mull Designation for Test-failing Graduates

Lawmakers, Educators Mull Designation for Test-failing Graduates

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state wants high school students to pass the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test.

But educators still want the students who do not pass the test to graduate, get diplomas -- and be counted as graduates for federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

The original idea was to have three levels of diplomas. Graduates who passed the tests would get a standard diploma. Graduates who did not pass the tests but tried at least three times would get an alternative completion diploma. The rest would get a certificate of completion.

But fears arose that those with alternative completion diplomas might not be eligible for college financial aid, particularly federal Pell grants.

So the state Board of Education's decided last week to allow all graduates to receive diplomas and leave it to individual school districts to decide how to differentiate between diplomas received by students who pass the test and those who do not.

But some legislators are objecting to that, contending it undermines the whole effort to raise graduation requirements and does not comply with state law.

The Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee told educators Wednesday that diplomas must show whether students passed the test.

"I recognize we have a lot of students who give their best effort who can't pass the basic skills competency test," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association. "Then again, a diploma needs to mean something in terms of basic skills. It's sort of a tough-love situation."

The committee did not determine how districts, or the state, will designate diplomas for students who don't pass the exam.

State Board of Education member Teresa Theurer said, "I don't know what the board will do."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington said, "We want to err on the side of giving kids every opportunity to succeed." She also worries alternative diplomas may not count in the state's graduation rate under No Child Left Behind.

State Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, said legislators intended in the law to set a minimum standard for Utah graduates and recognize those not meeting the standard.

"I think we're discussing lowering that standard," she said. "I think that does an injustice to our students."

Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, agreed the rule doesn't fit the statute, but said, "I think the statute is flawed. If we need to change the statute, frankly, I think that's where the work needs to be done ... by the Legislature, possibly this next session."

Delaying a decision is putting schools in a bind.

Harrington said diplomas typically are ordered by December.

Legislators suggested diplomas be printed for all students who assume they will pass the test. Then the state school board can decide in January how the diplomas should be altered for those who don't pass.

The board didn't want to tell districts what to print on their diplomas but now it may have to, Theurer said.

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

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