Oklahoma’s landmark 2005 legislation, which mandated that all high-school students pass exams to be eligible for graduation, may be killed off before it even takes effect. The law, Achieving Classroom Excellence, requires seniors to pass sophomore-level tests in English, algebra and two other subjects—biology, algebra II, geometry, U.S. history or junior-level English—starting with the Class of 2012.
Legislators are now backtracking because of the high number of students the law would likely leave without a diploma—some 6,000 in the Tulsa area alone. Even the co-author of the original legislation, Representative Jeannie McDaniel (D-Tulsa), has withdrawn her support for it.
“I think when it was originally passed, we anticipated some remedial work, maybe mentoring,” she told Tulsa World last week, noting that budget cuts may have prevented schools from providing enough of this remedial support. “If we’ve fallen short in that area, then I think we need to stand behind the kids and do what’s right.”
New legislation, introduced by Representative Jerry McPeak (D-Warner), would eliminate the testing requirement. “If it hits the floor, I bet this bill will pass by 80 percent,” he said. “This isn’t Democrat or Republican; it’s about just treating people right.”
School districts and states across the country have been under pressure in recent years to increase the number of high-school graduates. Nationally, somewhere between 25 and 30 percent of high-school students fail to graduate.
Oklahoma wouldn’t be the first state to shelve graduation tests in hopes of boosting graduation rates. In April 2011, Georgia eased its requirements by cutting the number of exams from four to just one.
At the same time, however, other states are increasing standards and creating more challenging standardized tests.
New York has vowed to make its high-school graduation exams tougher after a study last year showed that even students who pass the math test may be placed in remedial math classes in college. Florida recently raised its cut-off scores on all standardized exams, including those in high school, and is developing additional end-of-course assessments.
Statistics showing that large numbers of high-school graduates are unprepared for college coursework have fueled the push to make tests more difficult. Right now, many of those who do earn a diploma must enroll in at least one remedial course in college.
McPeak defended his proposal to Tulsa World as a necessity for students who want to go into the military, which requires a high-school diploma. “If this kid doesn’t get his diploma and can’t get into the military, what do you think he’s going to do?” he said.
But a high-school diploma does not guarantee entry into the military. The military has its own entrance exam, which tests nine subjects, such as word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning and general science. Nearly a quarter of those who take the test don’t pass it, according to a 2010 study.