May 3, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Connecticut has resisted joining the list of states requiring high school students to pass exit exams to graduate, but the State Board of Education may be warming to the idea.
Several board members, including some who have been skeptics, reviewed proposals Wednesday that would create new forms of graduation requirements, including exit exams.
"States that have created some kind of exit exam seem to be making more progress than we are at the moment," said Allan Taylor, board chairman.
A few years ago, Taylor opposed exit exams, but he and other board members seemed more willing to consider such tests as they reviewed ideas outlined by new Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan.
McQuillan, who took office two weeks ago, came to Connecticut from Massachusetts, where high school students, starting with the Class of 2003, have had to pass a standardized exit exam before they can receive diplomas.
Many states require high school exit exams, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell has supported the idea. But Connecticut lawmakers and educators in the past have opposed efforts to require tests. This year, two bills that would have required such exams failed to make it out of the General Assembly's appropriations committee.
Still, McQuillan urged the state board to review the idea and come up with a modified exam proposal that could be considered by the legislature next year.
"I think there are some lessons to be learned that we can take away from the Massachusetts experience," he said.
The proposals before the legislature this year would have required high school students, before graduating, to pass all four sections - reading, mathematics, writing and science - on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, an exam given annually to high school sophomores.
McQuillan asked the board to consider possible alternatives, such as limiting the graduation requirement only to the reading and mathematics tests at first, phasing in the other subjects later. In addition, he suggested a possible appeal procedure for students whose test scores narrowly miss the proficiency standard. He also proposed remedial courses with end-of-year examinations for students who fail the initial test.
Some board members clearly liked the idea of tightening graduation requirements.
"We've allowed [school] districts in Connecticut to set their own standards," said Alice Carolan. "The meaning of a high school diploma is different in every town. We need to define what a high school diploma means."
Edna Chukwurah, a student board member from Bridgeport, said, "The value of a diploma is not what it was when my mother graduated. If an exit exam is the way to do it, then let it be done."
However, board member Janet Finneran, a retired teacher, opposed the idea, saying a single exam such as the 10th-grade test is not always a good measure of a student's readiness to graduate.
"I've seen very, very capable students simply tune out because of the exam," she said. "The results of the CAPT test had nothing to do with their ability."
In other business Wednesday, the board approved the appointment of George A. Coleman as McQuillan's top deputy. Coleman, a respected veteran of the state education department, had worked as interim commissioner since August, following the resignation of former Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg.
Coleman's credentials include master's degrees from Columbia University in early childhood education and in curriculum and instruction.
"George Coleman has shown himself to be a wonderful leader and wonderful educator," McQuillan told the board. "I couldn't think of a better person to join me."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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