MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 18, 2012

Way cleared for diploma appeals

Seniors can now bypass multistep procedure, seek direct action

— State education officials changed appeals rules for students denied a diploma under the Achieving Classroom Excellence Act.

The class of 2012 was the first to be required to pass four End of Instruction exams to receive a diploma.

The change eliminates the requirement for high school seniors to exhaust all alternative options before they can file an appeal.

“They have backed off of what they’ve said before,” state Rep. Jerry McPeak said. “This deal is nothing like they’ve had before. And this is exactly the purpose of that press conference. Our intent was to pressure them enough to put out something that was good for the kids.”

State Department of Education officials said approximately 2,000 high school seniors originally did not meet the requirements to get a diploma under the ACE Act.

Those students were denied an appeal unless they attempted to:

• Pass alternate tests, including college entrance exams or vocational school entrance exams;

• Complete an end-of-course project such as a 30-hour research portfolio on the subject in question;

• Establish a special circumstance existed for the student; and

• Attempt to take the EOI more than once.

Instead, the new rules allow students to file an appeal within 30 days of being told they will not graduate.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi said it is best for students to attempt to master as many alternative requirements as possible.

“That will weigh in the appeal decision,” Barresi said. “The State Board of Education will ask how hard they have worked to try and meet the requirements for graduation.”

McPeak, D-Warner, said during a news conference last week that the department was attempting to circumvent a law signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in April. The law mandates an appeals process for every student who is told he or she will not graduate because of failed EOI exams.

McPeak said requiring seniors to try every alternative effectively kept students from appealing. He said it was an attempt to roadblock students from appealing at all.

“And that was not the intent of the law the representatives passed,” McPeak said.

Barresi said the SDE decided to address the appeals process Thursday in order to comply as soon as possible with the new law.

Although McPeak is glad the SDE has made the change, he is not 100 percent behind the Achieving Classroom Excellence Act.

“All we’re asking for is to let the local administrators, local school boards decide on their students’ futures,” McPeak said.

Barresi said school districts can decide for themselves whether to allow a student to “walk the stage” during graduation ceremonies.

Once students are past their graduation date, they can continue to attempt to pass EOI exams or complete alternative requirements as long as they are enrolled in school, she said.

“We’ll send their diplomas to them express mail as soon as they’ve met the requirements,” Barresi said. “We want students to succeed. We want to do everything we can to help them get their diplomas.”

The SDE has received two appeals requests to date, but both have withdrawn the requests temporarily until after the State Board of Education votes on the new rules at its May 24 meeting, said an SDE spokeswoman.

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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