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State Board Of Ed. denies diploma testing waivers

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Board of Education on Tuesday denied six high school students waivers from new testing requirements that determine whether a student receives a diploma.

Those students were hoping to receive waivers on the state’s Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) requirements.

This is the first class of seniors affected by ACE testing, which Governor Brad Henry signed into law in 2005.

Now, the Board of Education must hear their appeals but not every student’s reasons for failing those tests will get them a waiver.

“We are setting up that cycle of poverty for him and his family,” Dr. Janet Dunlop said, the Chief Academic Officer for the Broken Arrow school district.

She is talking about one student who did not pass the ACE tests that are required to get a diploma.

Dunlop said it’s because his family’s house caught fire and he was homeless while supporting a disabled mother and autistic brother.

“That’s a lot of weight to put on one child and also meet these ACE requirements,” she said. “He has worked so hard and has passed all but one test.”

Four Broken Arrow students who did not pass the required tests were denied a waiver Tuesday.

State Representative Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City) authored the amendment to House Bill 2970 that requires the board to establish an appeals process for students.

However, he supports the testing even though some may have reasons for failing them.

“Students are being prepared for 13 years to take the tests,” Nelson said. “So one incident does not negate 13 years worth of learning. I mean, that’s a cop-out.”

The Department of Education said other states with similar testing, like Massachusetts, are now a “shining star” of education.

“(The tests) demonstrate academic mastery of subject matter,” Spokesperson Damon Gardenhire said. “They demonstrate that the student actually understood what they were being taught and are truly prepared to go out and get a good-paying job.”

But Broken Arrow officials said they will continue fighting for their students.

“I’m going to do everything I can in my power to make sure that every kid has an opportunity to receive a high school diploma,” Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall said.  “Especially since they’ve already attended 13 years of school.”

Two students did receive a waiver Tuesday because one was a special needs student and the other had already been accepted into a selective university.

More than 93 percent of seniors met the ACE standards, Gardenhire said, but an estimated 2,000 did not.

A high school diploma can still be achieved with course projects, summer school or a fifth year.

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