Parents, Educators Question Fairness Of Graduation Tests For Some Students

Friday, February 8th 2013, 6:35 pm
By: Emory Bryan

There's a new controversy over the requirements for high school seniors to graduate.

All seniors have to take "end of instruction" tests, but parents of severely disabled children say it's just another seemingly impossible hurdle for their children.

Special education students have to take the tests, but not the same tests. They can take tests somewhat customized for them. The tests have to meet state standards, though, and that's a problem when it comes to the broad spectrum of disabled children in the public schools.

Seventeen-year-old Mary Washer attends school in Broken Arrow. She can hear, but cannot speak, and can only handle simple tasks. She will never live alone.

She's been in school for 12 years, but she won't graduate, or get anything to recognize her time in school, unless she can pass end of instruction tests.

2/29/2012 Related Story: Green Country Students Rally At Capitol To End Graduation Test

They're not the same tests the regular students take, but they still cover things like algebra.

"It's kind of ridiculous to me. My daughter—it's more important for her to learn how to get a drink without spilling it, than learning an algebra equation, but that's what the state says she has to do," said Mary's mother, Angela Chada.

Mary's teacher is proud of her progress and said she's met almost every goal they've set for her.

That's how she's advanced through the grades, as a special education student.

The new state guidelines on graduation tests have some flexibility, but not enough to accommodate students like Mary.

"They have gotten up and come to school as we've asked them for every day of their lives to this point," said Broken Arrow Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Janet Dunlop. "Why in the world would we hold them to a different standard than any other student? They've performed to the best of their abilities."

Despite her disability, Mary has taken alternative tests and almost passed.

"I feel like Mary has earned it," Chada said.

Mary's mother is waiting for the latest test results to see if she will graduate or not, this year.

"She would graduate and get a diploma. Do I expect she can use it? No. But she deserves that diploma," she said.

Dunlop said she believes, in cases like this, local teams working with the student should determine how to test them and whether or not they pass and deserve a diploma.

State Senator Mike Mazzei supports that opinion, too, and he co-wrote the legislation on the end of instruction tests. He said he believes it's being misinterpreted by the State Department of Education.

Read Senator Mazzei's Statement Of Support

Mary and her mother expect to find out next week whether or not she will graduate.