Local school boards should hear appeals from students who didn't receive a high school diploma because they failed to pass a required end-of-instruction test, a public school superintendent suggested to a legislative panel Tuesday.
Students also weighed in, saying the required tests are not doing what they were intended to do. A survey conducted by Watonga High School's leadership class showed two out of three seniors didn't try as hard on other tests after they passed the mandatory four end-of-instruction tests.
“Passing tests is now a mandate rather than learning for pleasure,” said student Desiree Richey.
A member of the House of Representatives Common Education Committee, however, said it's too soon to pull the plug on the state tests, which are given in subjects including algebra, English, history and science.
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said earlier fears that 6,000 students were at risk of not graduating this year because they had not passed enough of the mandatory tests were unfounded; the number was closer to 600. He said several school superintendents in his area support the required tests.
Rep. Jerry McPeak, who conducted Tuesday's interim study, said he would try again next year to get legislation passed to eliminate the mandate that all high school seniors must pass the battery of tests before receiving their diplomas.
McPeak, D-Warner, said he is willing to have a member of the Republican-controlled Legislature author the bill if that would help win passage.
Nelson said Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) legislation has been successful because the mandatory tests lead students to take remediation and do academic course work in those areas.
“You challenge kids and kids will rise to the challenge,” he said.
By the numbers
Nelson said state education officials predicted in November that 6,400 students were at risk of not graduating because they had not passed enough of the tests. By April the number dropped to about 2,000.
The 2012 graduating class was the first bound by Achieving Classroom Excellence legislation, which was passed in 2005. Under the law, students must pass four of seven tests to receive a diploma. However, they also may take the tests multiple times, take alternate tests or complete projects to meet the requirements.
Melissa White, executive director of counseling and ACE for the state Education Department, said 591 students met all graduation requirements except passing one of the required tests. The state Board of Education has received 138 appeals. Of those, 90 were denied, 18 were approved, 27 were dismissed and 3 are pending.
The 591 students represent about 2 percent of the 34,434 high school seniors expected to graduate in 2012, she said. That compared with 1,674, or 5 percent, of this year's seniors who failed to complete required coursework.
Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said hundreds of Oklahoma students who lacked passing one test — even though they attended school for 13 years and passed required courses — are deemed high school dropouts.
“Of these hundreds, many became so frustrated and disillusioned by the process that they simply gave up, regardless of the efforts of the school system,” he said.
Snow said local school boards should hear all such appeals. Legislation was passed this year that requires the state Board of Education to create an appeals process. Students have 30 days after being denied a diploma to appeal the decision to the state board, which has 45 days to act.
Nelson said he didn't like the idea of local school boards hearing appeals.
“I guarantee you 100 percent of the appeals that went to the state Board of Education” would have been approved if handled locally, he said.
Students who fail to pass a mandated test can earn their diploma by being a fifth-year senior and trying again or going to a junior college and passing 30 credit hours, he said.
“There are a lot of other alternatives,” Nelson said.