Utah's graduation test could see some changes in the near future if some lawmakers have their way.

And those changes could mean students who fail to pass the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test won't get a diploma of any kind — the way the law was intended, according to some.

The UBSCT was created to be a tool to assure employers and colleges that high school graduates had basic skills in reading, writing and math.

"We receive constant reports about students who can't fill out an employment application and yet they got a diploma," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

Thus, the UBSCT was crafted as an accountability measure and high-stakes test to make sure students had the basic skills in order to perform well after leaving high school and going into the workforce and post-secondary education, said Deborah Swensen, state assessment director.

As it stands now, if a student fails to pass the UBSCT but has attempted it three times and has completed graduation requirements, that student is still eligible for a diploma that would state they didn't pass the graduation test.

Stephenson said the Legislature intended that students would have to pass UBSCT before any diploma could be given. Those who failed would instead get a certificate of completion.

But the Utah State Board of Education feared that denying graduates a diploma could have harsh consequences — namely, students would not be eligible for federal financial aid for college.

Others said that it could result in a decreased graduation rate and maybe even a higher dropout rate. Plus, the law provides no alternative option to passing the test.

But that has irked some lawmakers since it takes the teeth out of the requirement.

"They have currently been giving diplomas to those who fail," Stephenson said. "Many feel that students don't take it seriously because they know they'll get the diploma anyway."

So what purpose does the UBSCT serve?

The Deseret News called a number of employers, including universities and school districts, asking human resources departments if they inquire what type of diploma an applicant has earned.

None of them ask. And some didn't even know what the test was.

So is the $1.7 million-per-year test worth it?

While some state leaders shrugged at the question, most said yes.

Swenson said one of the biggest benefits is the verbal communication between high schools and middle schools.

She said they are seeing better-prepared students coming into the high schools because there has been a dialogue among teachers.

Plus, some leaders noted that businesses have the option of finding out if applicants passed the UBSCT and therefore have basic skills, and some may — though the Deseret News failed to find any.

But Stephenson said he hopes that after the November election there will be a greater appetite among newly elected leaders to toughen up the rules. In recent years, some lawmakers have attempted to require students pass the test to receive any kind of diploma through legislation, but those efforts were thwarted.

"It's my feeling and hope that (after the election) the state school board will change drastically — there could be seven totally new people there with a greater emphasis on accountability and free market," Stephenson said. "That speaks well for the hope I have in changing the complexion of the state school board.

"Also there may be some changes in the House or the Senate, which could give a greater opportunity to pass legislation which would say to the state school board, 'This time we mean it, you're not going to give diplomas if a student hasn't passed a basic skills test."'


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com