diploma(by Jill Burke, Anchorage Daily News) – The high school exit exam that has haunted [some Alaska] students for a decade, officially known [as] the “High School Graduation Qualifying Examination” or HSGQE, is dead. With its downfall comes a gift for some 3,300 Alaska graduates who were unable to [pass] it after its implementation in 2004: The diploma that eluded them will finally be theirs.

The exit exam was created with the intent of raising the basic skill level of Alaska’s high school graduates. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, former legislator Con Bunde led the call to toughen graduation standards and thereby, in theory, improve student readiness for college. He and others were concerned that too few graduates were prepared for higher education or jobs.

For the last decade, high school sophomores have sat for the three-day exam, which measured reading, writing and mathematical competency. If students didn’t pass, they continued to take it as juniors and seniors. If they still didn’t pass but had met all other high school requirements, they received certificates of graduation instead of diplomas.

AlaskaThe exam was eliminated this spring by the Legislature with the passage of House Bill 278, coined “Alaska’s Education Opportunity Act” by Gov. Sean Parnell. The bill also expands opportunities for vocation and career training and access to boarding and charter schools.

Students weren’t being served by the exit exam, according to Sen. Gary Stevens, a Republican from Kodiak, who sponsored the change. He pointed to the fact that although many students had passed the exam, many of those same students still required remedial math and writing coursework once they entered the university system.

While the exam was intended to measure 10th-grade skills, its critics claimed it did not serve any purpose in determining career or college readiness. In the years since its inception, critics said, school districts have adopted better, continuous assessment methods. Administering and taking the exam caused teachers and students to miss six days of teaching and learning time a year.

“It has run its course,” Stevens said in his sponsor statement in support of dropping the exit exam.

The end of the exit exam is welcome news for parents and educators who have watched anxious students struggle to pass the test and witnessed other students who passed the first time become noticeably disengaged with school.

In its place, students will have to sit for one of three college and job-readiness exams: the ACT, the SAT or a career skills assessment called WorkKeys. The state will pay for one sitting of one of the exams. Among the topics the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development will discuss this week at its Anchorage board meeting are proposed regulations called for by the repeal of the exit exam, including the implementation of the new assessments.

map_of_alaskaWhen the repeal takes effect July 1, ASD’s 900 diplomaless graduates will be among an estimated 3,300 graduates from across the state who will be retroactively eligible for a diploma. School districts are in the process of figuring out how to verify which former graduates qualify and how best to track them down.

According to data compiled by Tom Mortenson, who runs the education policy website postsecondary .org, Alaska trails the nation when it comes to sending its high school graduates to college. In 2010, 46.4 percent of Alaska’s students were in college by age 19. The national average for the same year was 62.5 percent.

Saicha Oba, associate vice president for student enrollment services with the University of Alaska statewide, is hopeful the end of the high school exit exam, and in its place the emergence of other assessments, will help Alaska catch up.

By looking only at expectations for a 10th grader, the high school exit exam didn’t provide useful information to the university system about whether a student would, two years later, have the skills needed to succeed in college, Oba said.

The ACT and SAT measure academic readiness and are used as standard admissions exams by colleges and universities across the nation. Fees for those tests start at $36.50 and $51, respectively, with extra fees for subject tests, registration changes and additional score reports. WorkKeys, which measures real-world skills needed for job success, is administered through the Alaska Department of Education during a student’s junior year in high school.

“The taking of the ACT and the SAT are very, very big because it’s an activity that somebody who is looking at postsecondary education should go through. The state paying for it is going to go a long way for changing the culture of how you look at life after high school,” Oba said.

The state has said it won’t require a minimum score on any of the tests. It simply wants students to go through the process. By eliminating the HSGQE, the state has said it will save nearly $2 million a year.
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NOTE: “Answers” emails have ended for the school year and will resume September 2nd.
Daily posting will end for the summer on June 13th and will resume August 25th.

1.  When was the Alaska HSGQE first implemented?

2.  Why was the HSGQE created?

3.  When did students take this exam? Be specific.

4.  For what reasons did the Alaska legislature recently eliminate the HSGQE? (see para. 4-7)

5.  a) What is replacing the HSGQE?
b) Do you think this will be a better way to test students’ academic achievements?  Explain your answer.
c) Do you think the Alaskan government should pay the exam fees for students?  Explain your answer.

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