Protests, Problems Force States to Reconsider High-Stakes Testing

K-12 Testing

Faced with growing parent, teacher and student protests, elected policy-makers continue to pull back from implementing promotion and graduation testing requirements. In recent months, several more states have joined the list of those considering delaying or weakening their plans (see Examiner Spring 2000; Winter 2000-2001).


The California Senate voted to delay the state’s high school exit testing plan, saying students are not up to speed in the algebra required to pass the exam. The bill would delay the test one year, to 2005. Under current law, this year’s ninth graders would be the first to face the math testing requirement. Legislators feared that lawsuits claiming that students did not have a fair opportunity to learn the subject could threaten the entire accountability and testing plan if the effective date were not postponed.


Alaska legislators are considering a plan proposed by Senator Lyda Green that would award different types of diplomas depending on a student’s class grades, attendance and scores on the state’s high school exit exam. The bill would alter a law requiring all students to pass the state test to receive a diploma beginning in 2002.


Senator Green’s alternative would allow students who earned a “C” average in their classes and posted a 95 percent attendance rate to graduate, no matter how well they did on the test. Students’ test scores would appear on their diplomas if they passed the exam. Five different diplomas would be issued based on a combination of those factors and the courses students took. The bottom level - a diploma of “minimum competency” - would show that students attended school, failed the exam, and took remedial courses. As in California, Alaska Legislators feared “opportunity to learn” legal challenges on behalf of students who may not have received the necessary instruction to pass the exams.


Lawmakers at a Washington state Education Committee hearing were urged to delay high-stakes graduation requirements in math by two years, moving the date when all students must pass an exam to gain a diploma from 2008 to 2010. A separate section of the bill, supported by the state’s teacher union, would require the state to develop alternatives to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) to determine graduation. High failure rates on the 4th grade WASL tests led lawmakers to consider a postponement. The bill would not alter the 2008 reading test requirement.


Arizona legislators who have been debating proposed changes to the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) will have one less option: A bill to give voters a chance to weigh in on the AIMS in a statewide ballot question was killed by the education committee. The State Senate did vote to delay use of the math exam to determine graduation until 2004. The House of Representatives has not yet acted on the measure. Meanwhile, the Arizona Board of Education is considering a postponement until 2005.


The Texas House of Representatives voted 106-37 to approve a one-year delay in the state’s promotion plan which requires students in grades 3, 5 and 8 to pass the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) exams in reading and math in order to move on to the next grade. Approved in 1999 as part of former Governor Bush’s plan to “ban social promotion,” the law is due to take effect in 2003. Recently, however, the state has significantly revised the TAAS exams and planned to use the updated version - the TAAS-II - to determine which students should be promoted. Several legislators expressed concern that the new exams have not yet been properly validated for such use.