Sunday is the last day for students to receive a diploma and be considered part of the class of 2012.
About 550 of those seniors won't graduate with their class because of new laws that require them to pass state tests in subjects including algebra, English, history and science.
This graduating class is the first bound by Achieving Classroom Excellence, also known as ACE. Students must pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams, also known as EOIs, to receive a diploma.
This spring, the Legislature voted to require the state Board of Education to come up with an appeals process for students who didn't receive a diploma because they didn't pass the new tests.
The bill creating the appeals process was signed April 18, and the rules for the process were created in May.
It was a blur for students and school officials to keep track of, said Broken Arrow Chief Academic Officer Janet Dunlop.
“Last year, it was rushed and we were finding out a lot of things after the fact,” Dunlop said. “We just had a breakdown in communication between the school districts and the state department. Now that we've walked through it and know what the rules are, we can help kids a little better.”
In Broken Arrow, 21 students applied for waivers, and two were granted. Since then, 18 of the other students have met the graduation requirements anyway.
One student has not.
“He said, ‘I'm done,' and he left. He was frustrated,” she said. “His story really saddens me. He was a student we made promises to. He was a dropout. We got him to come back to school. ... He did what we asked him to do. He came to class. He made the grade. But he couldn't pass four out of seven EOIs. It's really heartbreaking, to be honest.”
The state Board of Education has ruled on 136 waiver requests thus far; 18 were approved. That's a pass rate of about 13 percent.
Two more will be considered in October. If approved, those students will be members of the Class of 2013.
Several students who were denied by the board have completed graduation requirements on their own, said Melissa White, executive director of counseling and ACE for the Education Department.
Even though the appeals process is in place, she said, students have many ways to succeed, such as retaking tests and completing alternative projects.
In November, about 6,400 students were at risk of not graduating because they had not passed enough EOIs, according to the Education Department.
By April, the number dropped to 2,000. Now, an estimated 550 students remain out of about 39,000 high school seniors, though the final numbers aren't in.
“These are students that would have graduated and gone on, but now I feel they have given the opportunity they deserve — their right to be educated to a certain level,” White said. “We're looking at 6,000 more students in Oklahoma that got more direct instruction in subject area to better prepare them in life that never would have happened last year.”
But those 550 or so students who haven't passed all their tests still have a chance to graduate, White said. They can complete special projects or alternative assessments any time.
However, if they want to try to retake the EOIs, they'll have to be enrolled in school, an option most educators don't expect students to take.
“We are looking at requesting legislative change for that,” White said.
The entire appeals process started because of Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. He authored a bill amendment that created it.
The state Board of Education has been fair and thoughtful in granting the waivers, he said.
“It is what I had in mind,” Nelson said. “I did not expect and did not want them just willy-nilly granting waivers.”
Nelson said the appeals process is necessary safety net for the ACE reforms, which he said are good for students.
“Kids can rise to any challenge you put in front of them,” he said. “Teachers rose to the occasion. Students rose to the occasion. Parents rose to the occasion.”