Stillwater News Press

May 28, 2012

Tests block diplomas for 2,000 Oklahoma seniors

Associated Press

— About 2,000 seniors in high school in Oklahoma have been denied diplomas because they did not pass enough of the new end-of-year tests.

The students completed their coursework but are in the first graduating class that falls under the 2005 Achieving Classroom Excellence law, which requires students to pass four of seven end-of-year exams.

But overall test results show students are developing a greater command of their course material, said Melissa White, executive director of counseling and classroom excellence for the state Education Department. She said the testing gives an Oklahoma high school diploma greater value.

“If they deserve that diploma, then they deserve it,” White said.

More than 30,000 seniors have passed at least four of the seven tests this year, and more are expected to do the same as testing continues in some school districts.

Broken Arrow senior Melinda Turner, a single mother who doesn’t receive child support, walked at her school’s graduation ceremony before her principal told her she didn’t do well enough on the end-of-year tests to keep her diploma.

“My heart dropped,” Turner said. “I felt like I went to school for nothing. I was so close.”

She missed a passing grade on her last test by one point.

“I met all the requirements to receive my diploma, except for passing this one last EOI (end of instruction) test,” Turner said. “My attendance is good. I do my work. I passed all my classes and I have all my credits.”

A bill signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on April 18 ordered the Education Department to create a broader appeals process, which allows any student to ask for a waiver of the test requirements, not just those facing an extenuating circumstance.

Students have 30 days to file their appeals and the Education Department has 45 days to issue a decision. The interval has drawn criticism from students who want to move on to work or college.

Under the new appeal process, the school districts have to verify test scores and other data that students include on their waiver applications.

Janet Dunlop, chief academic officer for Broken Arrow Schools, said about a dozen seniors from the district filed their appeal paperwork, only to learn the new law changed the process.

“We can’t even make a decision ourselves, so why are we holding these kids hostage while we sort out the details?” Dunlop said.

Turner, who has worked since she was 14, lives with her mother and they divide living expenses. She said she wants to study radiology at Tulsa Community College, but needs the diploma to be admitted.

“They just need to recognize the hard work it took for me to get this far as a single parent,” she said. “I’m just trying to make my life better. I don’t want to struggle. I’ve struggled my whole life.”

Turner is a student in the Margaret Hudson Program, which is dedicated to help pregnant and parenting teens in Broken Arrow and Tulsa. She said she sought tutoring after school and during the summer to help her with her state exams and took remedial courses to review.