ATLANTA -- The University System of Georgia is making it clear to its 34 public colleges that the thousands of high school seniors who failed the graduation test this spring aren't eligible for admission.
Colleges received a letter from Senior Vice Chancellor James Muyskens recently laying out the system's position.
"Just so there is no confusion about it, you need a high school diploma," Chancellor Stephen Portch said when asked about the letter.
"In view of the issue that has arisen regarding the Georgia High School Graduation Test, I want to remind you that the Board of Regents policy stipulates that in order to be considered for admission, an applicant must be a high school graduate," Mr. Muyskens wrote to college officials. "Students who do not pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test but receive Certificates of Attendance are not high school graduates."
In the letter, Mr. Muyskens also mentions that students who pass the General Education Development test are only eligible for initial admission to a two-year college, not a university.
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 continued failure rate on the science section brought an uproar from parents in late May and early June when they realized their children would not graduate from high school and would be ineligible for college.
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.
Under a Board of Regents' admissions policy approved a few years back, college presidents can make a limited number of exceptions to system rules.
System officials said Friday they don't know how many exceptions were made during the 1997-98 school year.
The state Board of Education this week approved a letter it will send on behalf of students to colleges where they had 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."
State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko has urged colleges to look beyond the graduation test to the rest of a student's academic record when making admissions decisions.