Senate committee trying to block exit exam move

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HARRISBURG -- A state Senate committee is trying to block a move to require students to pass exit exams before receiving high school diplomas.

The Education Committee yesterday voted 10-1 on a bill that would give the Legislature exclusive authority to add statewide graduation requirements.

The move is in response to the State Board of Education's plan to require exit exams in English, math, science and social studies. Beginning with the class of 2014, passage would be required before students could graduate. Students who fail would have several chances to pass throughout their high school years.

Supporters say the requirement would make diplomas meaningful because it guarantees that graduates have met minimum academic standards.

Opponents, including Sen. James Rhoades, chairman of the Education Committee, say the exams are expensive, that they are unfair to smart students who have test anxiety and that school districts should have the authority to decide their own graduation requirements.

"I understand testing could put increased pressure on kids and it could result in better behavior in school and more work, but kids who want to be successful are already doing that," said Mr. Rhoades, R-Schuylkill. The others will end up dropping out of school rather than face tests they find difficult, he said.

Michael Race, spokesman for the Department of Education, said the committee's vote is an attempt to derail a regulatory process that has worked for years.

It is unclear when the Senate bill might come to a vote on the floor, but Mr. Rhoades wants it to be on the table during budget talks. Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed budget includes $15 million in state funding to begin creating the tests.

Mr. Rhoades said that money would be better spent on instruction than testing.

The state Board of Education passed the exit-exam requirement in January. It is now before the Intergovernmental Regulatory Review Commission. The commission is charged with ensuring new regulations don't conflict with existing ones.


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