MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 10, 2012

State Rep: Barresi bypassing grad appeal process

McPeak says state education officials ignore regs in law

State Rep. Jerry McPeak accused state education officials of circumventing a law creating an appeals process for students denied a diploma.

The law, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in April, gives high school seniors the right to appeal denial of their diploma for not passing enough proficiency tests.

At a media conference Wednesday, McPeak, D-Warner, said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi is not following the appeals law. As a result, hundreds of graduates will suffer by not getting diplomas.

“There are 2,000 students whose lives are going to be changed forever,” McPeak said after the conference. “We just want her to allow the appeals process to occur.”

A spokesman for Barresi said students have many opportunities to make up high school End of Instruction tests they do not pass. Department of Education Communications Director Damon Gardenhire said appeals are a last resort after other options have been exhausted.

“They have many options, such as going a fifth year to cross that finish line, or taking a GED,” Gardenhire said.

He said the law requiring the tests was passed in 2005, before this year’s seniors started high school. As a result, schools had ample opportunity to get students to pass the test.

The Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) Act requires students to pass tests in Algebra I and English II, as well as two of five other tests in order to get a high school diploma. The other tests are Algebra II, English III, geometry, biology or U.S. history.

In February, McPeak introduced the “Freedom to Succeed” bill, repealing the law. He said he is still working to get the legislation through.

At Wednesday’s media conference, McPeak introduced Sand Springs students who met state graduation requirements but did not pass enough tests. One of the students has perfect attendance, four hope to join the military, 14 are economically disadvantaged, four live on their own and have full-time jobs, two are already parents.

He also introduced Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller, who had requested an EOI testing waiver for all students. McPeak said Miller questioned the Board of Education’s compliance with the Oklahoma School Testing Program. Miller has maintained the state is wrong to hold this year’s seniors accountable when the state is ignoring laws regulating the program.

Miller has claimed the Educational Quality and Accountability Board, set up to audit the tests, has never met.

Gardenhire said McPeak is pulling out a “red herring.”

“That body is an advisory body,” Gardenhire said about the  Educational Quality and Accountability Board. “They basically do studies and give advice, not set out the test scores.”

He said the board’s failure to meet would not nullify the EOI tests.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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