Tuesday, August 03, 2004
NYTimes.com Article: Alaska Agrees to Let Disabled Have Help on a School Exam
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Alaska Agrees to Let Disabled Have Help on a School Exam
August 3, 2004
By GREG WINTER
Disabled high school students in Alaska will gain broad
accommodations, including the use of dictionaries and
computerized spell-checkers, on the state's standardized
mandatory graduation exam under a legal settlement
The agreement, which requires court approval, would
conclude one of several legal challenges to the high school
exit exams that have been adopted in some form by about
half the states.
While the exams have been embraced as a way of ensuring
that students master the basics of a high school education
before getting a diploma, they have also come under legal
attack from parents and advocates for disabled students who
say the tests make it nearly impossible for those with
disabilities to graduate.
To avoid penalizing students with physical or learning
disabilities, Alaskan officials said they would allow for a
variety of accommodations during testing, like the
selective use of word processors or calculators, as deemed
appropriate by experts. Tests may also be read aloud to
some students, and severely disabled students may be able
to graduate without ever passing the exam, should their
other work be deemed adequate by experts.
Gregg D. Renkes, Alaska's attorney general, said the
settlement allowed the state to continue pushing for
accountability in its schools while treating disabled
"Let no one be confused,'' Mr. Renkes said. "That is one of
the highest goals. The settlement is all about doing what's
right for the kids."
The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed on behalf of
disabled students this spring, also described the
settlement as unusually far-reaching, establishing a
breadth of accommodations that few other state's exams can
"This is the most constructive resolution that has ever
been reached in a case of this nature," said Sid Wolinsky,
director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates,
which has also successfully challenged proposed exit exams
in California and Oregon. "It is a win-win for everyone."
Though both sides described the negotiations as amicable,
they also acknowledged that the settlement would be
difficult to carry out.
Some of the accommodations are controversial, like reading
out loud a test that is supposed to measure one's reading
"Not everybody likes every part of the settlement," said
Roger Sampson, Alaska's commissioner of education and early
development. "But I think they clearly understand the
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