County school district weighing impacts of testing on graduation
|Carbon School District superintendent David Armstrong shakes hands with a graduate from the adult high school program during last month's ceremonies while school board president Grady McEvoy looks on. The ceremonies presented over 70 people their diplomas, but with new requirements in 2006, how future adult students get to this ceremony and what kind of diploma or certificate they will receive is still under discussion at the state legislature.|
With next year's high school graduating classes, the rules for seniors will change.
But officials do not know whether the guidelines for Carbon County residents attending adult high school education classes will be affected by the changes.
Beginning with the class of 2006, seniors must pass a group of exams called the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test or they will not receive the traditional diplomas awarded for years to students who finish high school.
Instead, the seniors who have not passed the UBSCT will qualify for an alternative high school diploma or a certificate of completion.
A number of years ago, the Utah Legislature determined that attending school regularly, participating in classerooms and completing homework were not enough to earn a high school diploma in the state.
The Utah lawmakers then set about having the UBSCT become the benchmark for students attending high school at locations across the state to achieve.
The basic skills tested in the instrument include demonstrating competency in math, reading and writing.
At present, Carbon High students who attended classes at the junior and sophomore levels have had the opportunity to take the tests. Incoming sophomores can take the UBSCT during the upcoming year.
Next year, students who fail the exams will have more chances to pass the tests.
In fact, local students have five chances during a three-year period to pass the test.
The bank of three tests can be separated and taken individually.
If high school students, for example, pass the reading and writing tests, but fail the math section, they do not have to retake the first two exams.
The students will have four more chances within the next two years attempt to pass the failed sectiorns of the basic skills competency test.
UBSCT does not replace credits, attendance at school, grades or other requirements currently expected for high school seniors. In order to qualify for a full basic high school diploma, all of the existing requirements must still be met by the students.
To receive the alternative completion diploma, the high school students who have not passed all the sections in the UBSCT must meet several criteria. The students must also provide documentation that they attempted to take the state exams at least three times or that they participated in an individual education program through the Utah Alternative Assessment. Recipients of the alternative diploma must also have met all the regular high school graduation requirements, according to the new public education guidelines.
For a certificate of completion, regular high school students have to complete their senior year. For this award the student will not have to meet all school district or state graduation requirements.
When implemented the legislature thought this would be the answer to making sure students who receive a complete high school degree are also competent in certain basic skills. However when they made the rules they forgot about some students who in some districts make up a considerable number of graduates; adult students.
How will UBSCT requirements affect adult education students and their graduation from high school?
"We don't know the answer to that yet," said Carbon School District Superintendent David Armstrong earlier this spring when he was asked the question. "That situation is still under discussion."
And the discussion he mentions presently continues. In the past few months the Education Interim Committee of the legislature has been meeting with school officials and others to examine the situation and to determine an answer to that problem. There is basically one question on their mind as they consider the possibilities. Should adult students have to take the same tests as regular high school students, even though their high school classes graduated before the official start of the UBSCT program?
Some in the legislature think they should; other people, particularly most of those in the business of educating adults, think they shouldn't.
"We need people to call the senators and house members involved on this committee and express their opinions on it," says Judy Mainord, director of special programs for Carbon School District. "This is an important issue. This testing process would not be age appropriate for many adults."
There are many reasons, educators say, why UBSCT would not work well for adult high school students. One of them is the time of year when the tests are given.
The UBSCT tests are given three times annually, but adult students often finish their work at various times throughout the year, unlike most high school students who complete their work and graduate in the spring. At the time adult students finish their work they get their graduation documents, even though they may not go through a graduation exercise until later. Most would not want to wait four to eight months to finally complete their diploma. Consequently the mandatory taking of the tests at these set times could also preclude them from moving onto jobs, further educational opportunities and the military.
Adults also may have problems making it to the testing sessions at the times of day when they are administered. The test is given during the school day with specialized proctors and adults may have work or child care complications during that time. Many adult high school classes are held in the evening and individuals schedules are adjusted around that time of day.
Another problem exists with those who are incarcerated and are working on their high school diploma. Either by their own choice or by court order, many people who are incarcerated work on their diploma while in jail. Adult educators have questioned how UBSCT testing would take place for these individuals. UBSCT is strictly administered; so would these adults have to be released to take the test along side high school students during the middle of the school day?
Finally, proponents in favor of a different system of evaluation for adult students say the greatest problem could be the social disincentives for adults to take the tests along side teenagers. In a small area like Carbon County, those taking the test along side them could be from their neighborhood. In addition the proctors may be neighbors or acquaintances as well. This could be awkward for many adults.
But those opposed to having different standards for the two groups worry about competency, and if adults who come out of programs will be held to the same standards as regular students. However, educators who support a different course have an answer for that objection. They say there are a lot of valid alternatives that could be used.
One is the General Education Development Test (GED). Many adults who get their high school education obtain a GED instead of a district diploma. It is a nationally normed test that demonstrates competency.
"The GED is a difficult test," says Mainord. "It wouldn't make sense for an adult to take the GED and then have to take another test to prove they passed the first one."
There is also the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE). It is also a nationally normed test designed to measure a student's functioning level.
Adult educators also say that many of the entrance tests for adults to enter trade schools or colleges, such as the ACT and the SAT, could be utilized for the evaluation.
At a May 18 meeting of the EIC, two Granite School District adult educators suggested that amendments to the present law be considered. Claudia Thorum and David Frost passed out a information piece that recommended that the law exempt those from taking the UBSCT test whose classes graduated before 2006. They also suggested that the state find an alternative set of tests or test that could be used or that the state change the administration of UBSCT so it could be taken on-line and on-demand so it would better serve the needs of adult students.
"For those who already have a high school education this may not seem like much of an obstacle, but in Carbon County we have an estimated 2,700 adults who do not have their diploma," states Mainord. "We need to consider their needs and their future."