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Opinion: Failing Georgia's High School Graduation Test devastates son's self-esteem and life goals

The least controversial education bill under consideration by the Legislature this year would exempt thousands of former Georgia high school students from having to pass the discarded -- and, to some degree, discredited -- graduation test.

An estimated 8,000 Georgians lack a high school diploma because they could not pass a section of the multi-subject Georgia High School Graduation Test.

Under Georgia's strict rules, it didn't matter if students aced the related high school courses. If they didn't pass the exam, no diploma. A few waivers were granted, but most were denied because Georgia granted few exceptions.

Georgia has now stopped giving the Georgia High School Graduation Test in favor of End of Course Tests.

So, legislators don't think it's fair to penalize students who did not pass an exam the state has now eliminated.

I wrote about House Bill 91 in the AJC, which prompted a letter from a north Georgia parent to the bill's sponsor about her son's experience. The parent shared the letter with me and allowed me to share it with you. I wanted to publish it as the letter captures what students endured when they could not pass the test.

When I wrote about HB 91 three weeks ago on this blog, many of you argued the Georgia High School Graduation Test was not grueling and all kids ought to be able to pass it.

However, I've talked to parents of children with learning disabilities who said it was not easy for their teens.

In addition, the most compelling rationale for House Bill 91 was a finding by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement on the validity of the graduation test in predicting student performance. The report concluded:  “Students who score higher on the High School Graduation Test have roughly the same college GPA as students who scored much lower.”

With that background, here's the parent's letter to bill sponsor and Gwinnett lawmaker Brooks Coleman, chair of the House Education Committee:

What a relief it was to read Ms. Downey’s Feb. 16th AJC article about House Bill 91, which you are sponsoring. Our son has also suffered several agonizing years trying to achieve the final goal of getting his diploma. He is learning disabled and was in a combination of regular and special education classes.

Having had excellent attendance and passing all of his classes, he received full credit. He passed the GHSGT exams for Math, Science and Writing after multiple attempts and lot of private tutoring. However, continued attempts to pass the English and Social Studies GHSGT failed.

Our son desired for some time to join the Army. However, enlistees cannot even take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery without either a high school diploma or a GED with 18 hours of college credit (imagine that for someone who has always struggled with school).

We applied to the Georgia Department of Education for a waiver. As the article mentioned, this is an arduous process and the student is not allowed to review what the school has submitted. His waiver was denied. We found this odd, as he had passed the English End of Course Test his junior year.

We contacted the state offices to ascertain what all had been submitted and discovered significant disability testing information regarding his learning disability had not been submitted.  Our county’s educational testing department said they did not have access to private parts of his school record.

I informed them that all portions affecting the possibility of a waiver should have been submitted and, since they hadn’t been, the state was going to allow a resubmission of the request for waiver. We completed the process again, but the waiver was again denied. I cannot tell you how devastating this has been to his self-esteem and goals in life.

In any other state, my son and other students with similar circumstances would have had their diplomas and been able to move on to adult life.  Instead, life revolves around trying to get past a test that was geared toward college-bound students.

Our son decided he would go ahead with GED classes while continuing to take the GHSGT exams in these two areas. The GED educator stated she’d had several students who had sought GEDs when they had been unable to pass all of the GHSGT.

This is an issue not mentioned in the article and perhaps difficult to fully measure. We hit yet another barrier pursuing a GED. He was not able to complete individual GED testing in these two areas before the nationwide GED changes in January 2014.  The new GED requiring testing of all subject areas; this was too difficult a task for a learning disabled student who had been concentrating for two full years on just reading.

Again disheartened we looked for another alternative to complete high school. We found out about Penn Foster Online High School diploma program. This is one of the only online programs area technical schools and the military accept.

In January 2014, our son had his high school credits transferred and had to repeat the classes for the areas of GHSGT he had not passed. He was able to complete the program and get a diploma by late November 2014. That said, he’ll tell you he would prefer to have a diploma from our local high school.

There are many more details from this process that are too long to relay in a letter. We were pleased to see the House passed the bill and it has gone to the Senate.  We would certainly offer our time and any information or committee testimony you feel would help the passing of this bill by the Senate. We appreciate your time and effort in sponsoring this bill, Mr. Coleman.



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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.