Wisconsin’s hotly debated high school graduation exam, scheduled to be pilot- tested in April, would be delayed for two years because of a lack of funding, under a proposal Gov. Scott McCallum has submitted to lawmakers.
“We’ve got a $1.2 billion deficit” in the current biennial budget, said Tim Roby, a spokesman for the Republican governor. “While the high school graduation test is important,” he said, “we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
If the plan is approved by the legislature this spring—as expected— students would take a pilot assessment to gauge their grasp of English, mathematics, social studies, and science in 2004, said Anthony S. Evers, the state education department’s deputy superintendent. Passing scores on the test would become one of a battery of requirements for graduation beginning with the class of 2006, unless parents chose to keep their children out of the test.
The governor’s proposal did not surprise officials at the education department, who warned him last fall against proceeding with the exam’s development without first securing full funding.
At that time, Mr. McCallum and state schools Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster feuded openly about the need to begin the test design. (“Wis. Governor Feuds With Schools Chief Over Exit Test,” Oct. 31, 2001.)
The multiple-choice assessment is expected to cost $10.5 million to produce, but education department officials noted they were $7.7 million short.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCallum contended that resources could be found within the department or from other sources, such as the federal government. He asserted that education officials did not want to hold students accountable, and he threatened to strip the department of its power over assessment.
Gov. McCallum’s new position comes as “a relief,” Mr. Evers said. “We had a discussion with [test developer] CTB/McGraw Hill, and they understood completely.”
To date, the state has spent nearly $400,000 on the endeavor, according to Mr. Evers.
Neither the money nor the effort will be wasted, though, he said, as the state needed to overhaul its 10th grade assessment to comply with a federal law requiring that students be tested at least once during grades 10 through 12.
“We’ll be using the test items to supplement the 10th grade test,” Mr. Evers continued. “It is working out.”
Lawmakers worry, however, that those lobbying against the assessment itself will now have more time to generate opposition, said Rep. Stephen L. Nass, a Republican who is the vice chairman of the Assembly education committee.
That is a risk the governor is willing to take. “It is important to education ... but it now falls down the list” of priorities, Mr. Roby said of the exam.
The governor does not want to cut funding for K-12 education, he said, only delay the assessment process.
A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Citing Deficit, Governor Now Proposes Wis. Delay Exam