High school diploma discrepancies
February 9, 2008
From graduating early to not graduating at all, two proposed state senate bills for the 2008 General Session call into question what it means to receive a high school diploma.
Basic Skills Competency Test Amendments
Senate Bill 55, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Jones (D-Salt Lake City), states a high school student must pass the Utah basic skills competency test (UBSCT) in order to graduate. The only exception to the rule would be if a student’s disability prohibits him or her from doing so.
Under current requirements, students that pass the UBSCT receive a seal on their diploma that says they passed the state exit exam, and students that do not pass, still receive a diploma, just no seal.
Park City School District administrators are opposed to this kind of ultimatum. "If you are a test-phobic person and didn’t pass the test, yet are still able to demonstrate your competency in other ways, then why shouldn’t you be able to graduate?" Superintendent Ray Timothy commented. "A person should be entitled to a diploma. It is an unfair position to put students in."
Director of Human Resources for the district Tim McConnell coordinates the basic skills testing activities for the district and is also Park City’s liaison on the state level. He said there are too many factors to take into account when deciding whether a student passes or not, and it shouldn’t be just a "yes or no issue."
Recommended Stories For You
In order to pass the UBSCT, students must complete three sections reading, math and writing with adequate scores. Testing begins students’ sophomore year, and once a section is passed, it never has to be retaken again.
From Tuesday through Thursday this week, seniors, who had not passed all or part of the test, took the UBSCT for the last possible time. This year, the high school had two students who still needed to pass all three sections, five students that needed to pass two sections and four students that needed to pass one section. That equates to 3.4 percent of Park City’s high school population.
This is a low percentage of students compared to many schools across the state, PCHS Principal Hilary Hays said. Hays works with teachers to point out students who are struggling to get those kids the help they’ll need to pass.
She said a bill like this would take away students’ chances for success. "If we’re putting everything into one assessment, aren’t we limiting kids’ opportunities?" she said.
Hays continued that she thought the Office for Civil Rights would have a problem with this bill.
The bill could also have a negative effect on students wanting to move on to higher education, Timothy said, and at a time when college and university enrollment across the state is down.
Even more than discouraging applying to college, School Board President Kim Carson said, it has the potential to steer kids away from finishing high school. "I’m concerned about students who might get frustrated and say, ‘why should I stay?’" she said. "It could affect drop-out rates."
English Language Learners could take a hit from the bill as well, McConnell said. "When you take into account the length of time a person has been in the country, learning a language and a high school curriculum," he said, "I guarantee you there will be one kid that needs to pass one test that is an ELL student."
He added that senior transfer students could be subject to a disadvantage as well because if they came from a state that doesn’t require an exit exam, then they would not have many chances to pass the test.
High School Graduation Requirements
Senate Bill 142, sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen (R-Tooele), would also change the way Park City students could graduate by making test scores matter more than school credits. The bill allows a student to receive his or her high school diploma as long as the student passes the UBSCT and receives certain ACT scores.
Here again, Hays feels like this would limit students’ options. "There are many different opportunities that school offers that go beyond core requirements," she said. "If students graduate early, they would miss out on all of that."
Hays continued to say that extra curricular courses help students discover what they’re passionate about, and at Park City, kids have the advantage of being able to take up to 32 credits, when the graduation requirement is only 26.
"I’m proud of what we offer kids," she said. "Schools should take every opportunity to give kids as many different options as possible."
Hays said the bill reminds her of a common complaint students bring up. "Kids are always saying to me ‘why do we have to learn all these facts when we can just Google them?’" she said. "But they need to learn how to learn, and have to have the ability to make connections to all of those experiences."
Graduating early is good for some, she added, but for others, it can be negative if they are not mature enough and get out into the real world too fast.
Timothy agrees with Hays’ position on the bill. "There’s more to the educational experience than demonstrating testing abilities," he said. "There’s more to life and learning than just passing a test."
Utah State Legislature
Finding and tracking bills
There are several ways to search for educational legislation. First head to the Utah State Legislative Web site: http://www.le.state.ut.us . On the homepage, you’ll find the day’s agenda, along with a Quick Bill Search option.
If you want to use a more advanced search, below the Quick Bill Search box, there’s also a Search Bills/Bill Requests link. Here you can search by all legislation or recently passed bills, as well as by senator, representative, subject or committee recommendation.
Once you’ve found the bills you’d like to keep track off, head back to the homepage and rollover the Bills button on the left-hand side. Click on Tracking Service and enter the bills you’d like to know the status of.