Mich. Schools Warned Not To Excuse Pupils From Test

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In a new, strongly worded resolution, the Michigan school board is warning schools that only students with disabilities or limited English ability should be excused from taking the state's high school proficiency test. Subscribe to Teacher Magazine

School officials were blindsided in February when parents of hundreds of college-bound juniors let them opt out of the 2-year-old test. The parents said their children had nothing to gain from the 11-hour exam. ("Just Saying No," April 9, 1997.)

A spokesman for the state board said the warning issued April 17 is also intended to discourage local administrators from trying to inflate their schools' performance on state tests by urging low-achieving students not to take them.

Elementary school officials in Muskegon Heights enraged Gov. John Engler earlier this year when they admitted they had asked parents of students with high absentee rates to excuse their children from a state exam.

But most of the recent test flap was over the high school exam, which scores test-takers as proficient, novice, or not-yet-proficient in four academic areas. The exam is not required for graduation, but the results appear on student transcripts, and proficient scores are recognized with gold seals on diplomas.

The test is designed to force schools to adopt tougher academic standards and give more meaning to high school diplomas. But the scoring terms have been criticized as vague and punitive.

Hoping to make the exam more palatable, the board last month also asked state legislators to do away with the current scores and instead simply indicate those areas in which students earn state endorsements.

Effects Doubted

Local school officials said they appreciate the board's work, but are not sure the warning about waivers will have the desired affect.

John W. Hoeffler, the superintendent of the 7,500-student Birmingham district near Detroit, said most parents already understand the intent of the test waivers.

The problem is that parents also know that the laws on waivers are so broad that any parent can seek one, he said.

"The board's obviously telling us that if it happens again, we're abusing waivers," Mr. Hoeffler added. "This puts us in a direct conflict with our parents."

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