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Governor signs bill today enabling 9,000 Georgians to receive high school diploma

UPDATE: Nathan Deal signed the bill . Again, if you are affected, contact your school district for details.

According to the new law, an affected student “may petition the local board of education in which he or she was last enrolled to determine the student's eligibility to receive a high school diploma pursuant to this Code section based on the graduation requirements in effect when the student first entered ninth grade. Once the local board of education confers a diploma upon a student meeting such requirements, the local board shall transmit to the Georgia Department of Education in accordance with department procedures the number of diplomas awarded. The local board  of education may date the high school diploma on the date the student graduated or the date the diploma was conferred.

Original blog:

A delighted House Education Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth will be on hand at noon today when Gov. Nathan Deal signs House Bill 91 , which retroactively grants high school diplomas to an estimated 9,000 Georgians who did not earn one because they failed a portion of the now discarded Georgia High School Graduation Test.

Coleman sponsored HB 91 bill, saying it would be the most important piece of legislation his committee passed this year.

The test dates to 1991, when the Legislature voted to phase in an exit exam that would put some teeth into the rising rhetoric of holding students accountable for basic academic achievement. But the exam was eventually deemed inadequate and was replaced by the End of Course Test (which is being replaced this year by Georgia Milestones).

There was also doubt the test meant anything in terms of what students learned or didn't learn in high school.

In its own study of the value of the Georgia High School Graduation Test in predicting how high school graduates would perform in college, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement found, "Students who score higher on the High School Graduation Test have roughly the same college GPA as students who scored much lower."

Failure on the test dimmed the futures of many students who could not move ahead in jobs or attend college.  While the state Board of Education could grant a waiver, the criteria were stringent – hardship or disability -- and most requests were denied.

DOE retired the test with the class that began high school in 2011. It is unfair now, said Coleman, to tell parents, "Yes, your child has to pass a test that is no longer required."

When I wrote about this bill earlier in the legislative session, two views emerged:

The high school graduation test was considered a basic skills test, and students had multiple chances to take it and pass it. That so many students could not ought to alarm us.

But since there is no real evidence passing the test meant anything, why hold young Georgians and their futures hostage to a meaningless score?

If you or your child falls into this category, you ought to contact your school system.

Also on hand for the bill signing will be Hall County Superintendent William Schofield who sent out this statement:

This is a life changer for thousands of Georgians!  Consider:

  • Graduation Test requirement went into effect in 1994 and was not replaced until the past 2-3 years.
  • The Hall County School District alone presents 40-60 requests per year for waivers of the GHSGT, perhaps half have been approved.  Additionally, most students in this situation do not request this option.
  • I estimate in Hall County alone, 1,500-2,000 students over the past 20 years have met all requirements to graduate, with the exception of passing 1 or more sections of the GHSGT.
  • A week does not go by that we don’t receive a phone call, visit, e-mail, or in person visit from someone 19-35 years old pleading for any hope to exempt a section of the test, receive their diploma, and get on with their lives.

This is long overdue, and yet another example of a practice that had unintended consequences effecting thousands of Georgians. I thank Representative Coleman and his colleagues that championed this legislation.

The Hall County School District will be putting together a plan to disseminate this information and create a support system to educate effected individuals regarding potential educational and career options.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.