The state Board of Education debated Wednesday whether exemptions are too broad or too narrow for students who can't graduate from high school because they are unable to pass end-of-instruction exams.
The board discussed changes to several reforms, including the A-F school evaluation system and teacher certification, at a special meeting Wednesday. The board is expected to vote on the proposed changes Thursday.
One hotly-discussed issue was end-of-instruction tests, which Oklahoma high school students are required to pass before receiving their diplomas.
Last year, 591 of about 34,000 graduates of the class of 2012 did not receive diplomas because they failed to pass the tests.
Several changes are proposed to the rules governing end-of-instruction exams, including defining the term “extenuating circumstances,” which the board can consider when granting a waiver to the test requirements. The board also can exempt students from more than one test. Last year, exemptions were only granted for students who fell short of the requirements by one failed exam.
One of the changes would be allowing a waiver of the test requirements for students accepted to four-year universities. Last year, waivers were given to students admitted to “selective” institutions.
The term “selective” institutions has to be addressed, said Stephanie Moser Goins, assistant general counsel for the state Education Department.
“That's a rather squishy definition,” Goins said. “ ... The goal was always to make this a specific exemption for a narrow set of circumstances. The concern here is that we open up this language too broadly, we'll gut the underlying policy of the rule, which is to raise the bar on achievement.”
Board Member Joy Hoffmeister, who represents Tulsa, said the rule doesn't take into account low-income students who can't afford pricier institutions. She cited programs at Tulsa Community College.
“I certainly understand your concern. I also have concern for those that are economically disadvantaged,” Hoffmeister said. “ ... It seems to give preference to only those that are able to afford to go to a four-year university. I have a problem with that.”
Other board members said they were uncomfortable with any exemption related to college admissions.
“We want kids to graduate ready for college,” board member Bill Price said. “Have we done them a disservice by granting the exception and then allowing them to go to a university where they may not be ready?”
Price said students who plan to attend a two-year college could simply gain admission to a four-year university, earn the test exemption and then go to the two-year school.
At the state Capitol, several House members held a news conference to complain that a proposed rule would revoke existing academic standards and remove legislative oversight.
“What's the benefit of leaving us out of the approval process? The answer is control,” said Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville. “We don't need to allow the total control to go to one person (state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi).
Joel Robison, chief of staff for the state Education Department, said the Board of Education has the sole authority under state law to adopt academic standards. The Education Department in recent years voluntarily sent the standards to the Legislature, he said. The standards are getting voluminous, more than 400 pages, and is causing an administrative burden. The proposed rule drawing the concern of the House members asks the Legislature for approval for the agency to stop that practice and “in no way takes out any of the current standards,” he said.
Contributing: Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau