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Alaska Agrees To Graduate Students Without Exit Exam
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 7, 2004

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA--High school seniors with disabilities in Alaska will not need to pass the state's exit exam in order to graduate this June, under an agreement reached Wednesday in a class-action lawsuit.

The agreement effects about 500 students who are set to graduate this year and have fulfilled all other requirements. The agreement will allow attorneys on both sides to negotiate "in good faith" the issues the lawsuit presented for future graduates.

A group of five students filed the suit against the Alaska Board of Education last month, claiming the state's new High School Graduation Qualifying Examination -- as it is now implemented -- discriminated against them by making it more difficult for them to graduate and get a diploma.

Federal law requires students with disabilities to be given accommodations on school tests, to have questions read to them, or to use calculators, for instance. While schools do allow accommodations on most tests, the suit accuses Alaska of not allowing such accommodations on the exit exam.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs praised state officials for a "constructive approach to resolving this very time-sensitive issue on a rapid but well thought-out basis."

Negotiations are to begin May 18, with progress to be reported to a federal court by July 9.

The Legislature is considering several bills that would modify exit exam requirements, according to the Associated Press.

Attorney Sid Wolinsky is representing the students in the suit. His firm, Disability Rights Advocates, has already sued the states of Oregon and California, in 2000 and 2001 respectively, over their use of standardized tests as a graduation requirement. The issues brought up in the California case have not yet been resolved.

The Alaska suit calls for reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, alternative ways of assessing students who cannot perform well on tests, and policies to make sure students are not tested on material they were never taught.


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