Legislature(2013 - 2014)CAPITOL 106
02/07/2014 08:00 AM EDUCATION
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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HB 278-EDUCATION: FUNDING/TAX CREDITS/PROGRAMS [Testimony for both HB 278 and HB 220 were taken simultaneously, during the hearing on HB 220; the second agenda item.] 8:06:03 AM CHAIR GATTIS announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 278, "An Act increasing the base student allocation used in the formula for state funding of public education; repealing the secondary student competency examination and related requirements; relating to high school course credit earned through assessment; relating to a college and career readiness assessment for secondary students; relating to charter school application appeals and program budgets; relating to residential school applications; increasing the stipend for boarding school students; extending unemployment contributions for the Alaska technical and vocational education program; relating to earning high school credit for completion of vocational education courses offered by institutions receiving technical and vocational education program funding; relating to education tax credits; making conforming amendments; and providing for an effective date." CHAIR GATTIS established that today's hearing would deal exclusively with the bill sections addressing the repeal of the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (HSGQE); in concert with HB 220 to be heard sequentially. 8:06:34 AM MIKE HANLEY, Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development (EED), described the original intent of the exam, and testified with official support for the repeal of the HSGQE requirement, as addressed through the pertinent sections contained in HB 278. 8:08:10 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked whether the HSGQE has been used to track accountability regarding school performance or student attainment of proficiency standards. COMMISSIONER HANLEY clarified that a high stakes assessment is a tool for the student to prove competency; however, all assessment are a reflection of school performance, as well, due to the integral nature of the educational system. 8:09:32 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX noted that the standards may have changed, since the inception of the HSGQE, as a minimal proficiency indicator, but stressed the need for continued testing to measure the knowledge a student has garnered during their school career. She suggested the elimination of all school exams, if the concern is that some students may fail. COMMISSIONER HANLEY said the HSGQE is unique in that it is a high stakes exam; failure to pass this exam precludes a student from receiving a diploma. Other assessment tests remain available to indicate student achievement levels, such as the Standards Based Assessments (SBAs), administered in grades three through ten. He said employers will still be able to review a student's transcript scores but this legislation will remove the practice of having a test requirement connected directly to the receipt of a high school diploma. 8:11:19 AM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER asked how necessary it is for the exit exam to be aligned with education standards. He conjectured that there is naturally some overlap in reading, writing, and other studies. COMMISSIONER HANLEY said, "We assess what we teach." It would be erroneous to assess something that has not been taught; however, currently the HSGQE is geared to assess what is now taught in middle school rather than the high school curriculum; in that respect it is important for the test to be aligned with what is being taught. REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER questioned whether it stands as an indictment of the student or the test standards, if there is failure to pass. COMMISSIONER HANLEY established that concern is raised if, by the twelfth grade, a student is unable to pass the HSGQE considering it is targeted to test skills that are expected to be learned in the eighth, ninth, and tenth grade levels. He added that student failure can result in scrutiny of a school's practices, along with other factors. 8:13:14 AM COMMISSIONER HANLEY moved onto the other two components of the Alaska Education Opportunity Act pertinent to repealing the HSGQE. A critical aspect is the transitional language, intended to address students who have graduated without passing the exam and instead of a diploma received a Certificate of Achievement; having achieved all other graduation requirements. Under this component, those specific students may retest and earn a diploma within a three year window; through 2017. The second component is the inclusion of assessments that best meet the needs of students and will provide them with an opportunity to qualify for the Alaska Performance Scholarship. It also includes the necessary information for other potential career steps beyond high school. The assessments would be taken during the last two years of school, eleventh or twelfth grade, and allows options for taking the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), American College Testing (ACT), or WorkKeys. He noted that employers are using the WorkKeys assessment on a greater scale, and colleges and universities continue to refer to the SAT and ACT scores for entrance criteria. He said this section intentionally shifts the requirement from the need to pass a high stakes exam to taking a readiness/competency assessment that will act as an informative tool for students, parents, colleges, and employers. It's a shift of focus from state accountability to providing useful information to the student. 8:16:00 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX said it appears that administering a high stakes examination to a high school student is inappropriate, and asked if that impression is correct. COMMISSIONER HANLEY said high stakes exams are not necessarily inappropriate, and eight other states have implemented the practice. However, by tying the test to earning a diploma it is imperative that it be done intentionally, correctly and administered with a sense of fairness for the students. He said the HSGQE is not providing what the department desires, and is no longer warranted. REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked whether the test could be revised for applicability to what is being taught; what would be wrong with making that adjustment. COMMISSIONER HANLEY stated his belief that, with the new standards and new assessments, the educational system has the ability to measure proficiency, engage and meet the needs of students, without a high stakes exam. 8:17:52 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON noted that HB 278 proposes to repeal existing statute that requires the WorkKeys assessment be taken by every student in the eleventh grade, with the option to retake in the twelfth for an improved score, and the results become part of the student's transcript. Thus, employers can evaluate the skill status of a potential hire via access to the transcripts. He pointed out that this measure was a policy established through this committee, and received support of the full legislature, and opined that eliminating this assessment would prove problematic. Through a series of theoretical situations, he illustrated how a student without the WorkKeys score on their transcript might be disadvantaged, to wit: if college is not pursued or completed and the young person seeks work, someone with an assessment score could be considered a more desirable applicant for hire than someone whose transcripts did not contain the WorkKeys ranking information. Further, he pointed out that SAT and ACT scores are not available or used in the same manner by potential employers as the WorkKeys assessment information. He requested: I want your frank opinion on whether exempting all kids that are going to college from taking, and having WorkKeys on their transcripts, actually degrades in the minds of high school students, the value of the WorkKeys test and also what employers are going to do with kids that think they're going to go to college and then don't complete [their degree]. COMMISSIONER HANLEY said the WorkKeys assessment would not be eliminated, but it would no longer be a requirement of every student. The transmittal and content of transcript information is not expected to change under the proposed section of HB 278, and he offered to review the language for further assurance. He said the intent is to provide students access to tools that will assist them in pursuits beyond high school. Some students may not take the WorkKeys assessment seriously, he opined, if they don't feel it is applicable to the direction they have chosen, particularly a definite postsecondary path; however, any student would still have the option to take the WorkKeys assessment. 8:23:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON recalled that the original act required the WorkKeys score to be included on the transcript and HB 278 does not delete the language from statute. Thus, if employers across the state, who have begun to rely on the WorkKeys information as a hiring tool, notice it not being on a transcript, it would cause question and put a student without a score at a distinct disadvantage. He maintained concern for not having all eleventh grade students complete the WorkKeys assessment and opined that junior year students are typically incentivized to apply themselves to their remaining semesters of high school study in order to achieve higher, final, WorkKeys scores that become a permanent part of their high school transcripts. Removal of the requirement will cause the loss of this incentivizing effort for continued rigorous study. Current law requires a WorkKeys score as part of a student's transcripts, and HB 278 does not indicate that SAT or ACT information will be required. He acknowledged that a well- crafted resume could satisfy an employer, but the information would not be verifiable without this information on a transcript. COMMISSIONER HANLEY pointed out that the WorkKeys assessment can be taken at any time by anyone through the state work placement centers. He pointed out that HB 278 proposes to have the state fund the cost for the administration of two assessment exams of the student's choice. Thus, a student might choose the WorkKeys one year and the SAT, or ACT, for another year, scores that could prove personally useful, without additional expense. He said this provides an opportunity to receive scores to support either choice of technical/workforce or college pursuit, rather than an elimination of an option. 8:25:49 AM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER acknowledged that the HSGQE is no longer considered a good assessment tool and should be eliminated. He opined that clarity of the terminology is important, and stated his understanding: a test indicates a pass or failure of a minimum score, with appropriate consequences attached, in this case a diploma versus a Certificate of Attendance; the term assessment indicatives a student's standing on a continuum ranging from absolute perfection to utter failure; and a standard provides the benchmark against which a student is tested. He asked if there are standards and minimum performance levels attached to the achievement of a diploma that would provide useful, measurable information; beyond warming a chair for four years. COMMISSIONER HANLEY named many of the requirements that are necessary to graduate and receive a diploma, which include attendance, designated courses of study with specific credit requirements, achievement of total credits, and completion of the state SBA examinations. He reviewed how HB 278 removes the high stakes test score requirement for receiving a diploma, while leaving in place specific requirements and formative assessments to track student proficiency. He assured that testing still occurs in order to receive credit in required classes. 8:28:33 AM REPRESENTATIVE DRUMMOND noted the previous mention that the WorkKeys assessment can be taken by a job seeker at any time, at a local job center, and asked about the cost to the individual to have it administered. COMMISSIONER HANLEY deferred. 8:29:20 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX agree with the previous members statements regarding the need for testing as a means to establish student standing, and added that it acts as a guard to the general public; the bar exam for example. 8:30:02 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON recalled that at the time WorkKeys was made a requirement there was consideration given to eliminating the HSGQE, with the expectation for removing the high stakes exam while providing employers with a useable reference for the skill sets that an applicant would have achieved. He opined that HB 278 represents a retreat from the principle of the statute that was established to provide this meaningful, universal skillset indicator, as a reference for employers. COMMISSIONER HANLEY responded that, if it is the intent of the legislature to maintain the WorkKeys assessment requirement and also have the state pay for an SAT/ACT exam, the goal to provide students an opportunity to test for vocational as well as college careers, would still be intact. 8:34:30 AM LES MORSE, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Education and Early Development (EED), clarified that the State School Board oversaw the WorkKeys assessment requirement written into the department regulations, 4 AAC 06.717, but it does not appear in state statute. REPRESENTATIVE SEATON maintained that the mission was to ensure that a student would leave high school with something more than a disparate graduation diploma. As proposed, HB 278 would eliminate the HSGQE, and WorkKeys would remain as the only assessment information on the transcript. He opined that two actions occur: uniformity of knowledge regarding what a diploma represents is lost; and a two tiered system is delineated in which anyone planning to attend college would not be required to take the WorkKeys assessment, with resulting unintended consequences. COMMISSIONER HANLEY said the bill allows the student to choose the appropriate tool for their future use, and does not alter teaching standards, or student preparation, expectations and requirements. 8:37:13 AM REPRESENTATIVE SADDLER noted the $500,000 savings by not administering the HSGQE, and inquired about the cost to proctor the SAT, ACT, or WorkKeys per time, per student; what will the cost difference be for eliminating the HSGQE and administering one other three exams. COMMISSIONER HANLEY said the department anticipates a cost of $52.50 per person for the SAT, and given the cohort of 10,000 students across the state, the cost in one year should be approximately $525,000. The WorkKeys cost is about $2.7 million. A contractual obligation also exists with the vendor who provides the HSGQE assessment and, thus, the cost cannot be entirely removed from the fiscal note. Additionally, the department is negotiating with the contractor to continue to provide the HSGQE, on a smaller scale, over the next three years. He finished, explaining the details of the negative $900,000 fiscal note. To a follow-up he estimated that it could cost $1.3 million, per year, to exit the contract and continue administration to a handful of students over a three year period. He further clarified that the HSGQE is administered at a cost of roughly $2.7 million, and the WorkKeys carries a cost of $411,000 to the mentioned cohort. 8:41:14 AM REPRESENTATIVE DRUMMOND agreed with needing to repeal the HSGQE, and cautioned that the move away from administering too many exams may result in requiring too few. 8:43:11 AM REPRESENTATIVE SEATON asked how many students receive a certificate of attendance versus a diploma, each year. He said spending money to maintain a routine for proctoring an examination, when a student has not fulfilled other graduation requirements would be difficult to justify. MR. MORSE responded that numbers range from a high of 410 to a low of 265, with a total of 2,963 overall who have received a certificate of achievement since the exam has been in place. To a follow-up question, he clarified that the statistics represent the number of individuals who received a certificate of achievement, since 2004. The number who have achieved the goal of receiving a diploma is about 160 in recent years, and some will be proctored multiple times in order to pass all parts of the test. He offered to provide additional, specific data. 8:47:03 AM REPRESENTATIVE LEDOUX asked for an explanation of the GED. MR. MORSE said it is a general education diploma, which was introduced following World War II to allow veterans who had not completed high school a means to attain a diploma equivalency and enter the workforce on an equal footing with peers who were graduates. It has changed over time and is administered by the Department of Labor and Work Force Development. CHAIR GATTIS announced HB 278 was held over.