Lawmakers may consider additional legislation requiring high school students to pass basic skills and competency exams before receiving a diploma.
Such was the intent of a previous law requiring all students to take the Utah Basic Skills and Competency Test before getting a diploma. However, the State Board of Education currently still grants the graduation document, making note on it that students did attend and pass the courses required but did not pass the required UBSCT.
Nearly 20 percent of Utah's high school graduating class of 2008 did not pass the necessary tests.
According to data from the state board, the majority of those students are white males. A big portion of economically disadvantaged and disabled students and nearly half of the graduating Hispanic student population did not pass.
"I don't believe the students have failed as much as we have failed them," said Sen. Howard A. Stephenson, R-Draper, chairman of the Education Interim Committee that met Wednesday afternoon. He added that giving the unqualified students a diploma was essentially "outrageous."
Judy Park, assistant superintendent of the Utah State Office of Education, said they have been working with remediation course offerings to be sure the students who failed the test, on more than three occasions and up to five, are prepared for the next steps in their lives. She mentioned that an "achievement gap" is evident for all of the tests offered in high school, not just the UBSCT.
"It's very concerning," she said, adding that the districts are working to make adjustments to help all students meet requirements. "When you have one standard for everyone, there's always a concern because every student is not able to meet that standard."
The fear, Stephenson said, is that if students know they will receive a diploma regardless of passing the test, they won't try to pass the test, which then makes the expensive-to-administer exam process obsolete. He was adamant that the committee consider making the test more important, thus further validating a diploma, instead of becoming more lax.
"There is no sense of urgency to pass the UBSCT because the consequences just are not there," he said.Rep. Kory M. Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, who as a teacher has helped to administer the tests each year, said that he is confident most students recognize the importance of passing the exam as far as it relates to graduating from high school.