Originally created 07/10/98

Trustees' letters explain test failure



ATLANTA -- More than a month after the end of the 1997-98 school year, the state Board of Education is still being asked to grant diplomas to students who didn't pass the mandatory graduation test.

The board handled nearly two-dozen waiver requests Thursday, most of them from students who repeatedly failed a section of the test and couldn't get a diploma before they finished high school.

The board has committed to turn down such requests and didn't stray Thursday.

"All of these waiver requests are heart-wrenching," said board member J.T. Williams.

However, the board approved a letter it will send on behalf of those students to colleges where they have been tentatively accepted, explaining why they didn't get a diploma.

Board Chairman Johnny Isakson said the letter is designed not to recommend someone be admitted, but to explain that the student "otherwise has completed the required course of study for a high school diploma."

"It is the board's request that the student's academic performance be taken into consideration for determination of this student's eligibility for full or conditional acceptance into a post-secondary program," Mr. Isakson's letter says.

That may not be enough because the University System of Georgia requires a diploma or passage of the General Education Development test.

Students with good grades who failed a section of the graduation exam could take the GED test and enter college if they pass, but they would be ineligible for a full HOPE scholarship.

They need a diploma to get a HOPE, which pays full college tuition, fees and books. With a GED, they are eligible for $500 a year.

It's still not known how many students did not pass all portions of the test, but state officials say 5,351 students -- about 8.3 percent -- failed the science portion in five attempts.

Only about 6.5 percent of last year's graduating class repeatedly failed other portions of the test. Science was added as a requirement for this year's graduating class.

High schoolers begin taking the test as juniors. They have four more chances to pass sections they fail before graduation time their senior year.

Those who still haven't passed by graduation can take it again in August.

The situation may not improve next year. This spring, more than one in four Georgia 11th-graders taking the test for the first time failed the science section. In some counties, more than two-thirds failed it.