Legislature(2001 - 2002)

03/07/2001 01:32 PM Senate HES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
         SB 128-PUBLIC SCHOOL EXIT EXAM TRANSITION PERIOD                                                                   
SENATOR LEMAN,  sponsor of SB 128, said he believes  that competency                                                            
testing is  appropriate.   When he voted in  favor of the exit  exam                                                            
requirement,  he believed  the five  years of  preparation time  was                                                            
adequate.    He  believes  the  DOEED  and  others  who established                                                             
standards  for the state  did a commendable  job.  The results  from                                                            
the first  and follow  up round  for the  exam have  been less  than                                                            
spectacular  with a few  exceptions.   He has  looked at the  school                                                            
districts  that were the  exceptions and learned  a few things.   He                                                            
believes  the test should  be a  standard for  passage and the  test                                                            
results should be placed  on the transcript and the diploma.  SB 128                                                            
buys two years of time.   This approach accomplishes several things.                                                            
School  systems will  have more time  to align  their curricula  and                                                            
bring what  is taught  in the schools  up to  a level that  Alaskans                                                            
believe  is appropriate  for high  school students  to achieve.   It                                                            
will also give  students additional time to learn  the material.  It                                                            
also gives parents  additional time to get involved  in the learning                                                            
of  their  children.   He  purposely  did  not  address   the  issue                                                            
surrounding  special education because  he is not an expert  on that                                                            
subject and  the bill will provide  two years to tackle that  issue.                                                            
SB  128 provides  legal  defensibility.    He  spoke with  the  past                                                            
superintendent  of  the  Unalaska  School  District  who is  now  in                                                            
Valdez, Carol  Comeau with the Anchorage  School District,  and Carl                                                            
Rose, with  the Association  of Alaska  School Boards  (AASB).   All                                                            
three indicated their willingness to comment on SB 128.                                                                         
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN  said she would now take up the draft  proposal for                                                            
committee legislation  [SB 133].  The committee's  proposal would do                                                            
much of  what Senator  Ward's,  Senator Leman's  and the  Governor's                                                            
bills do.  She has tried  to find a solution  for every student  who                                                            
might be  required to take  the exit exam.   The committee  proposal                                                            
contains  intent  language  that  encourages   school  districts  to                                                            
develop  additional endorsements,  above  and beyond  what the  bill                                                            
requires,  to develop a better  picture of  each student.   The bill                                                            
requires  the  exit exam  to  focus on  essential  and foundational                                                             
skills in the  areas of reading, English,  and mathematics  that the                                                            
general community  would expect  the student  to have or to  know in                                                            
order to  function at  an introductory  level in  our society.   The                                                            
transitional  language for the time  period between now and  2003 is                                                            
similar to  that provision in Senator  Leman's bill.  The  committee                                                            
proposal  also contains  language  prohibiting  the  exit exam  from                                                            
being  administered  during a  day when  school is  in session,  the                                                            
purpose being  to avoid  having half of  the school non-functioning                                                             
while the exam is being  given. She noted she is open to suggestions                                                            
on that language.                                                                                                               
TAPE 01-17, SIDE B                                                                                                              
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN said  that  the draft  bill has  a 2004  effective                                                            
date.  At that  time, a  student will  be  required to  pass a  high                                                            
school  essential  skills  examination  to  receive  a  high  school                                                            
diploma,  unless  the student  receives  a  waiver from  DOEED.  She                                                            
explained that  a waiver might be given if a student  transferred in                                                            
during his  or her senior  year or to a  student who has passed  all                                                            
classes  and done well  but for some  reason failed  the exam.   She                                                            
noted the draft  bill contains re-examination  language that  she is                                                            
unsure about.   That language was  left open so that DOEED  can work                                                            
on it.   Section 3 contains  permissive language  for children  with                                                            
disabilities  and conditions for granting  diplomas to children  who                                                            
do not  receive  a passing  score on  the exam.   Special  education                                                            
students have  a very wide range of  abilities and skills  therefore                                                            
different approaches will  be necessary. Some students will never be                                                            
required  to take an exam.   She intends  to add oversight  language                                                            
that  says  when  a  school  is  in  the  process  of  providing  an                                                            
alternative assessment  for a student, a report of  explanation must                                                            
be done.  It is  not her intention that the bill contain  a loophole                                                            
so that  any student  with an  Individualized  Education Plan  (IEP)                                                            
will not have to take the  test.  The fact that a student passed the                                                            
exam will be noted  on the diploma and the scores  will be placed on                                                            
the student's transcript.  She asked Carol Comeau to testify.                                                                   
Number 2189                                                                                                                     
MS.  CAROL  COMEAU,  Anchorage  School  District,  thanked  Senators                                                            
Leman, Ward  and Green  for considering the  concerns the  Anchorage                                                            
School District  has been  bringing forward.   The Anchorage  School                                                            
District  is  not   interested  in  stepping  back   from  the  exam                                                            
requirement  or   from  the  accountability  aspect.   However,  the                                                            
district is still  concerned about special education,  bilingual and                                                            
military  transfer  students.    She  is  aware  the  committee  has                                                            
recognized  these issues  so she hopes  they can  be worked  through                                                            
during the next two years.                                                                                                      
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN said  she  thinks the  waiver language  will  give                                                            
DOEED room  to make provisions for  military students in  particular                                                            
and any other anomalies that occur.                                                                                             
MS.  COMEAU  asked  if  DOEED  has  given  its  perspective  on  the                                                            
essential skills issue.                                                                                                         
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN said she  cannot speak  for the Commissioner,  but                                                            
she noted Commissioner  Holloway is relieved the committee is moving                                                            
forward.  She then took public testimony.                                                                                       
MR.  STEVE  CATHERS,  Superintendent   of  the  Valdez  City  School                                                            
District, said  he was speaking on his own behalf.   The legislation                                                            
on the exit exam  has had a positive effect on schools  and students                                                            
in the  state:  it has provided  an  incentive for  students to  try                                                            
harder  and  for  schools  to  be  focused.    At  this  point,  the                                                            
accountability  system needs to be  made part of a statewide  school                                                            
improvement process,  which is in danger of becoming  discredited by                                                            
unresolved  issues of  fairness and  undesired results.   The  worst                                                            
case scenario  will be that  the group of  students denied  diplomas                                                            
will correlate  closely to the group of students already  identified                                                            
as handicapped,  bilingual  or economically  disadvantaged.  Another                                                            
result,  which  could  discredit  the process,  could  be  found  in                                                            
numerous anecdotal  cases of students  who become successful  in the                                                            
business world but were  previously found inadequate by the State of                                                            
Alaska because of the qualifying  exam.  He supports Senator Leman's                                                            
bill (SB 128)  in its effort to allow  time to resolve these  issues                                                            
yet maintain  accountability.  The  following other fixes  must take                                                            
place during the two-year delay.                                                                                                
   · The appropriate education for students with special needs                                                                  
     guaranteed by federal  law is not yet provided for in any bill.                                                            
     The  Valdez  school district  will  be  sued over  this  issue.                                                            
     Senator  Green's idea  of separate  and  multiple diplomas  has                                                            
     merit and should be explored further.                                                                                      
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN clarified  that the previous language she discussed                                                            
regarding separate diplomas is not in the draft proposal.                                                                       
MR. CATHERS continued.                                                                                                          
   · The math portion of the exam needs to be adjusted, as with any                                                             
     standardized test, to ensure its validity.                                                                                 
   · An honest inquiry must take place regarding whether all                                                                    
     students  have had  equal access  to quality  education.   If a                                                            
     school  is   identified  as  needing  improvements,   will  the                                                            
     students  be  punished by  withholding  their  diplomas?   This                                                            
     study should  take place using data that just  became available                                                            
     at the education summit.                                                                                                   
   · A further step is needed to increase graduation requirements                                                               
     so that  passing the minimal  standards of the qualifying  exam                                                            
     is not  the only measure of student  success.  Bright  students                                                            
     might  be  "dumbed"  down  by  this  system  if  they  are  not                                                            
     challenged more.   He proposes that different kinds of diplomas                                                            
     be  offered, sometimes  called Career  Pathways diplomas.   The                                                            
     day of  the generic pass/fail  diploma is passed; the  world is                                                            
     now specialized.   An academic diploma could represent college-                                                            
     readiness and a technical  diploma could represent preparedness                                                            
     for  a skilled  labor career.   Graduation  standards for  each                                                            
     should  be different but equally  rigorous.  This change  would                                                            
     prepare  students  for  the world  of  work  and not  reject  a                                                            
     portion of our students  who are not college bound but are very                                                            
     much career bound.                                                                                                         
   · Remediation needs to be supported through increased funding.                                                               
     Summer   school   and  after   school  tutoring   must   become                                                            
     commonplace around the state.                                                                                              
   · Student behaviors and student discipline must continue to be                                                               
     addressed   to  prevent   failure  due   to  interference   and                                                            
     disruption by other students.                                                                                              
MR. KENNY BRYANT, Operations  Business Manager for the Western North                                                            
Slope Business  Unit for  Phillips Alaska,  said he was speaking  on                                                            
his  own  behalf.    He was  asked  to  testify  by  virtue  of  his                                                            
involvement  on the Content  Review Committee.   He was involved  in                                                            
reviewing the  math portion of the  exam.  His group looked  at each                                                            
question  and asked whether  it required  essential knowledge  for a                                                            
student to  graduate from high school.   He noted that the  business                                                            
community would  much prefer to have the test scores  on the diploma                                                            
or transcripts.   He does not believe  the exit exam is a  high risk                                                            
exam.  He  asked  whether  the endorsements   would  be based  on  a                                                            
pass/fail  system or whether  they will  contain a  score.   A score                                                            
will be a lot more valuable for a future employer to know.                                                                      
Number 1732                                                                                                                     
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN   explained  that  the  scores   will  be  on  the                                                            
MS. AMY BOLLENBACH,  testifying from  Homer, asked if the  committee                                                            
has extensive  studies on states that use exit exams  regarding drop                                                            
out and suicide  rates and other possible effects  of the exit exam.                                                            
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN said  she has  seen several  comparison pieces  on                                                            
different  things states have  gone through  to conform and  improve                                                            
their tests.   She said  she does not know  whether the information                                                             
Ms. Bollenbach referred to is available but she will ask DOEED.                                                                 
MS. BOLLENBACH asked that  the committee get that information before                                                            
taking  action on  the legislation.   She  noted an  article in  the                                                            
Peninsula  Clarion  reported  that  several  students  have  already                                                            
dropped out  of high school  in the Kenai  Peninsula because  of the                                                            
exit exam.   If that is true, it is  important to think about  where                                                            
those students  are going.  Ms. Bollenbach said she  prefers Senator                                                            
Ward's bill  because it  takes into consideration  that people  want                                                            
accountability  and information  on  students.  That  bill does  not                                                            
make the diploma  contingent upon a certain score  but instead would                                                            
state whether the student  has competencies in reading, writing, and                                                            
math.   She  believes  society should  be  very careful  when  doing                                                            
things that might make children feel like failures.                                                                             
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN asked Ms. Bollenbach  if she favors canceling  the                                                            
exit exam.                                                                                                                      
MS. BOLLENBACH  said she would prefer that it be canceled  or to use                                                            
Senator Ward's method of listing levels of competency.                                                                          
Number 1445                                                                                                                     
MR.  DOUG WESSON,  President  of  the  Alaska  School Psychologists                                                             
Association  (ASPA), said  the ASPA favors  delaying the exit  exam.                                                            
Its areas of concern are:                                                                                                       
   · In many schools, the curriculum has not been aligned with                                                                  
     current standards;                                                                                                         
   · Reasonable accommodations are insufficient for students with                                                               
     identified disabilities;                                                                                                   
   · The high school qualifying exam alone has questionable                                                                     
     reliability and validity; and                                                                                              
   · Alternatives need to be developed for students who may not be                                                              
     able to pass the exit exam.                                                                                                
The  ASPA does  not  propose a  date  by which  the exam  should  be                                                            
delayed but  believes it should not  go into effect until  the above                                                            
concerns are addressed.   ASPA believes it would be best to delay or                                                            
phase  in  the exam  so  that  its flaws  and  difficulties  can  be                                                            
ASPA supports  standards and accountability.   It is important  that                                                            
teachers have the tools  and resources required for students to meet                                                            
the  standards:  smaller  class  size,  upgraded  facilities,  after                                                            
school tutoring and summer  school available for all.  ASPA supports                                                            
the  National  Association  of  School  Psychologists'  position  to                                                            
ensure  that the  use of  tests  is fair  and that  they  accurately                                                            
measure  achievement.   Tests  should  not be  the sole  measure  to                                                            
determine  passage for  graduation.   The  test can  only provide  a                                                            
sample of skills  and it must be valid  in order to be useful.   The                                                            
profession of school psychology's  ethical guidelines warn that test                                                            
scores  alone should  never be  used to  make a  determination  on a                                                            
student.   Additional  measures  of  student achievement  should  be                                                            
considered, such  as teacher evaluations.  The National  Association                                                            
of Test Directors has gone  on record to delay the implementation of                                                            
the  exit  exam  because  of  substantial  performance  differences                                                             
between  male  and  female students,  students  from  more  or  less                                                            
affluent  families,  students  from  urban and  rural  schools,  and                                                            
students with  differences in racial  and ethnic heritage.   One aim                                                            
of  this  test is  to  provide  accountability  in  instruction  but                                                            
teachers  do   not  control  the   socio-economic  make-up   of  the                                                            
communities  nor  the transience  of  the  population.   Neither  do                                                            
teachers  control the salary  levels they receive  or the extent  of                                                            
parental  involvement  in education.    Additionally,  this  outcome                                                            
seems  to  punish  the child  rather  than  improve  factors  highly                                                            
related to academic success.                                                                                                    
MR.  WESSON said  testing  is a tool;  it  should not  be a  policy.                                                            
Testing  can sometimes  limit  a teacher's  ability  to accommodate                                                             
students  with diverse  learning  styles.   The use  of test  scores                                                            
alone can misrepresent  actual student achievement and increase drop                                                            
out rates.   Testing  should  not be used  to punish  but rather  to                                                            
diagnose.   Not all schools in Alaska  have aligned their  curricula                                                            
with the exit  exam and many have just begun needed  remedial help -                                                            
a reflection  of the  short period  of time between  the first  test                                                            
results  indicating  the areas  in need  of improvement.   The  ASPA                                                            
supports   the  accommodations   being   made   for  students   with                                                            
disabilities  in the draft  proposal.  Students  need to be  able to                                                            
demonstrate  mastery of the performance  standards and not  just the                                                            
mastery of taking the test.                                                                                                     
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN asked  Mr. Wesson  if he thinks  the language  she                                                            
discussed provides the leeway to do that.                                                                                       
MR. WESSON  said he  thinks the  committee is  heading in the  right                                                            
direction and  the ASPA supports that  movement.  He added  that the                                                            
US District  Court  in Portland,  Oregon  recently heard  a case  in                                                            
which  a group  of parents  filed  a lawsuit  against  the State  of                                                            
Oregon   because   their   children   were   denied   the   use   of                                                            
accommodations.    Under  the  settlement,  students  with  learning                                                            
disabilities  would be  allowed accommodations.    ASPA feels  there                                                            
needs to be  alternatives for students  who may not be able  to pass                                                            
the exit  exam.  It  would like  to see alternatives  used,  such as                                                            
portfolios,  verification of  standards, grades,  and attendance  to                                                            
determine  whether  a  student  receives   a  high  school  diploma.                                                            
Students with  disabilities could have their IEP teams  provide data                                                            
and information to help  determine whether the students are eligible                                                            
for a diploma.   He also  noted a policy  for students who  transfer                                                            
into the state  needs to be looked at.  He cautioned  there are huge                                                            
consequences  for students  who do not  pass the  exit exam  and for                                                            
those  who  may miss  the  exam  date  because of  family  or  other                                                            
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN noted that she has  asked DOEED to craft  language                                                            
to address  emergency  situations.   She  asked him  to address  the                                                            
legislation before the committee in future testimony.                                                                           
DR. ED  MCLAIN, Kenai  Peninsula  Borough School  District,  thanked                                                            
Chairwoman  Green  for  her leadership  in  this  area.   The  Kenai                                                            
District strongly  favors refocusing on the essential  skills aspect                                                            
of the  test, the provisions  for students  with special needs,  the                                                            
provision for  transfer students,  and the timing of the  test.  His                                                            
district  is now identifying  the skills and  knowledge that  a high                                                            
school graduate  needs to have to participate on a  structured level                                                            
in society.    Those skills  are a  subset  of the  skills that  are                                                            
included in the Kenai District's  curriculum.  He offered to provide                                                            
assistance  to the committee  in crafting  out specific regulations                                                             
for the special education student provisions.                                                                                   
MR. CARL ROSE, Alaska Association  of School Boards (AASB), said the                                                            
AASB has  identified areas  of concern that  the committee  has been                                                            
trying  to deal  with.   He  noted  the  issue is  one  of time  and                                                            
simplicity at this point.   Failure to pass legislation this session                                                            
will leave school districts  up against a wall in 2002. He applauded                                                            
the committee  for working on the  concerns that are of importance.                                                             
He  stated the  qualifying  benchmark  exams have  created  positive                                                            
changes in education.   He would hate to compromise that progress by                                                            
not having legislation passed this year.                                                                                        
CHAIRWOMAN  GREEN announced  the committee  would meet on  Saturday,                                                            
March 11,  at 10:30  a.m., to review  SB 120, SB  128 and the  draft                                                            
language of the  proposed Senate HESS Committee bill  [SB 133].  She                                                            
noted the committee would  like to hear from parents and students at                                                            
that meeting.                                                                                                                   
Number 559                                                                                                                      
SENATOR WARD  asked if  he could have some  amendments incorporated                                                             
into the proposed committee bill.                                                                                               
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN said that would be fine.                                                                                       
SENATOR DAVIS  informed the committee  that she will be passing  out                                                            
draft legislation at Saturday's meeting for public comment.                                                                     
SENATOR WILKEN noted that  he would not be able to attend Saturday's                                                            
meeting and that his staff will be present.                                                                                     
There  being no  further  business  to come  before  the  committee,                                                            
CHAIRWOMAN GREEN adjourned the meeting at 3:00 p.m.                                                                             

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