Alabama ends high school graduation exam

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 15, 2013 

Local school officials knew the past few years that the Alabama High School Graduation Exam would be discontinued, but they still welcomed the news this week that the state's board of education voted to officially end the test.

"It became really a waste of time, and it wasn't a true measure," Phenix City Schools superintendent Larry DiChiara said Friday. "They had to phase it out."

After the state board combined the national Common Core with its standards in November 2010 to form the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards, the 30-year-old graduation exam no longer completely aligned with what students were being taught in the classroom.

Students who were in ninth grade before the 2010-11 school year and are one or two grade levels behind still must pass the exam to graduate. But for everyone else, Alabama is phasing in end-of-course tests and will administer the ACT college entrance exam to all 11th-graders.

ACT scores won't determine who graduates, but they will more accurately assess how well the students are learning the state standards, officials said. In fact, Alabama public school students in grades 3-8 will take a pre-college and career readiness exam called ACT Aspire, so educators can track their progress toward those goals, said Smiths Station High School principal Jason Yohn.

"We can take all that data to better suit instruction," he said, "and by the time they come into 10th grade, we can put them in the right courses."

Alabama was one of 26 states that used a graduation exam, according to a 2012 survey by the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy in Washington, the Associated Press reported. The survey found that end-of-course tests are growing in popularity, with 18 states using them and nine of those states requiring students to pass them for graduation.

The Georgia High School Graduation Test started to be phased out in 2011. Georgia public school students who entered high school in the fall semester of 2011 no longer are required to pass the exam to graduate. But they must pass all of their mandated courses to graduate, and the end-of-course tests now count as 20 percent of the final grade instead of 15 percent.

Alabama Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice told the AP that end-of-course tests already are in place for 10th-grade English and Algebra I but there is no passing score yet.

"This is our baseline year," Bice said, "and we will take the results from this year to determine the baseline from which to set scores as we move forward."

The Alabama board plans to add more end-of-course tests as the budget permits, the AP reported.

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