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Certificate, not diploma, for students who fail test?

High school students who fail the Utah Basic Skills Competency Test would get a certificate of completion, rather than a diploma — with some exceptions — if a bill under consideration by the Legislature passes.

Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, brought the bill Wednesday to the Legislature's Education Interim Committee.

Right now, high school students must pass the basic skills test's reading, writing and math sections to graduate from high school. The students take the test the first time as sophomores but can retake it up to five times. Those students who repeatedly fail can get a government voucher to help them pay for tutoring.

Students who never pass the exam receive a diploma saying so. But it's a diploma nonetheless. Some legislators have balked at that, saying the law was not intended to give diplomas to everyone, regardless of test performance.

Jones' bill would address the matter and create an appeals process and exceptions for students with disabilities.

Students who have an individual education plan under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act still could get a diploma if their plan says they don't have to pass the exam that determines high school diplomas.

Just under 12 percent of Utah's public schoolchildren have such plans, and about half of them are for learning disabilities, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington said.

If Jones' bill passes, students could take the exam repeatedly, even after they're out of high school, in order to get a diploma. Tests still only would be administered during the official fall and spring state testing periods.

The bill also would put an appeals process in place for students who have failed the test at least three times, maintained 95 percent attendance in the current and prior school year, except under extenuating circumstances, and show a portfolio demonstrating they know their stuff.

"There are a few people who are out there who simply cannot ... (though) not for a lack of effort of their own, pass this test," Jones told the committee, adding she wants to address that problem while lawmakers "maintain a high standard and preserve the value of a high school diploma."

The portfolio part of the bill would be effective for the class of 2009; the rest, for the class of 2008.