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.

Was it unfair to deny students diplomas because they failed a portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test? (AJC File)

Was it unfair to deny students diplomas because they failed a portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test? (AJC File)

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.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

78 comments
qweet01
qweet01

yes!!!!! they passed the law, thank you Jesus!!!! Glory to god!!!

Jr Foster
Jr Foster

I graduated 2000 taking the Social Studies test 7 times have not passed yet I'm 35 years old and still have not passed it pass this bill !!!!!!!


Kimarccorp
Kimarccorp

The test wasn't implemented until 1991 which means prior to that, you went to school, completed your credit requirements and graduated. Plain and Simple. We've managed to turn our students into lab rats. Great going Georgia!! Pass the bill already.

teacherandmom
teacherandmom

I support this bill.


I have a former student who is unable to pass the graduation writing test.  His disability is written expression and it is significant.  His ELA teachers worked diligently to help him improve his writing skills.  It was a major success when he was finally able to write a complete sentence.  The use of graphic organizers and other writing tools help him organize his thoughts but he is still unable to write a logical essay.  Ask him to talk about the writing prompt and you'll see he is able to form the paper in his head.  Hand him a sheet of paper and suddenly the ideas in his head hit a brick wall.  He simply cannot put the words on paper despite many years of additional help and instruction.  


For several years after graduation, he returned for all writing test reviews.  He worked hard to pass the test.  A couple of times he has come within 2 points of passing.  He has been denied a waiver.  This past year he stopped showing up for the reviews.  


He works in a local business.  He is a good employee but continues to live at home.  His wages will not support him on his own.  He wants to attend the local technical school but that is on hold for now.  If this bill passes, his writing disability will not go away but it will allow him to at least attempt to earn certification in field of interest.  I suspect given his work ethic and appropriate accommodations in his IEP, he will earn the certification.  


In my high school the majority of former students who would benefit from this bill are Learning Disabled.  I hope the bill passes.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@teacherandmom


I hope this bill passes, also.  Not all are learning disabled, but practically all have had severe disadvantages which were over and beyond the norm.  Innate intelligence is not the issue, nor is "not caring" on the students' part. Those are stereotypical images, only.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@teacherandmom I have taught students similar to your son. Kids who could explain in speaking anything you asked them to, could discuss intelligently whatever they read, but simply could not complete the process of pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and produce coherent compositions. I permitted them to do oral interviews with me instead of writing essays to demonstrate persuasive, informative, and narrative skills. There needs to be an accommodation that permits students with that disability to use voice-to-text technology in order to pass written examinations.

qweet01
qweet01

I pray that they grant diplomas to belated students, because i am one of many who have not passed one portion of the test by one point. I graduated in the year of 2001, and have taken this test many of times. I am a wife, and a mother of a 7 year old son, with Sickle Cell Disease. I am now 31 years of age, and have struggle without my diploma. However I have been a Customer Service Supervisor for 12 years. I always think about things being different, if i had my diploma. Its stressful at times, because I had to focus on my son, being in and out of the hospital. A lot has to deal with focus for me, when it comes to major test. I've always been great with curriculum, and maintained a B average. So, whoever said, that the people who are not passing cant read, is so not true. I pray that they pass this. Be blessed

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@qweet01


Thank you for sharing your story. I have worked with more students with stories like yours, regarding the GHSGT, than you would know.  Your story rings true for those young Georgians with many other stories similar to yours. 

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@qweet01 Best wishes! The future will be bright for you.God bless you and your little boy--he will be so proud of you.

newsphile
newsphile

I could support granting diplomas to former students who pass the tests required of current high school graduates. This would eliminate the graduation test requirement.  I can't support granting belated diplomas to the masses with no additional testing.  Grades are too subjective. 

We have heard from a couple of parents of students who are exceptions among the 8,000 students.  I'm thinking of the majority of these students who can't read, write, add, and subtract.  Do we want the diploma to be worth less than the paper on which it's printed? 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@newsphile "Do we want the diploma to be worth less than the paper on which it's printed? "


We are doing everything possible to make this so.

SGeorgia_Teacher
SGeorgia_Teacher

I have been on both sides of this issue.  I have seen the students who truly struggled to make the cut, and they were denied a waiver or chance to make it.  I have also seen the students who coasted through school, did nothing and thought they would magically make it on the test.


In 2008, the state changed, without prior notification, the cut scores for ELA and Science, raising the score for ELA and lowering Science.  This is after the change from QCC to GPS.


How anyone can reasonably hit a target that is constantly changing with no rhyme or reason is anathema.


My question: Will the state retroactively change the graduation rates for schools with a large number who did not graduate and failed AYP as a consequence?  Of course not.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

I support periodic standardized assessments, but I do not support a graduation test. Standardized assessments can and should be used for diagnostic purposes, ensuring that teachers understand students' learning styles and adjusting their curriculum and approach to ensure students are learning.  A graduation test should not be a prerequisite for getting a diploma.   Does a college student take a test to get a Bachelors or Masters Degree?  In most cases, NO. 


As I said in Maureen's last blog post on this matter, there is a moral hazard with this type of assessment.  What happens to the student who carries a 3.0 GPA or higher but is not a good test taker.   Should he or she be penalized?  I don't think so, unless there is substantial evidence that the student was socially promoted and not deserving the grades he or she received.  I think that is very unlikely.

redweather
redweather

@living-in-outdated-ed  To get an MA in English you take what are known as comps.  They're not easy.  To get a Ph.D. you are required to pass an oral exam.  Definitely not easy.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@living-in-outdated-ed 

As to MA and PhD test requirements, it depends on the school and the discipline in which the student is getting a degree. MA: some fields have Comprehensive Exams at the end; others don't but require a Thesis at the end instead. PhD: in my experience, the oral exam is on the student's dissertation, but there are always written exams on the first and secondary fields of specialty. Hard.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@living-in-outdated-ed " Does a college student take a test to get a Bachelors or Masters Degree?"


That is because they expect that professor's grades accurately measure the mastery of the subject matter.



living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@class80olddog @living-in-outdated-ed Then fix the teaching, but don't put it all on a graduation test. Why should 4 years of hard work come down to one comprehensive final?   I do not support, nor will I ever support, such a test.   I'd rather homeschool my kids before agreeing to such an exam, that's how strongly I disagree with this assessment.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@Lynn43 @living-in-outdated-ed Yours truly was not a good standardized test taker, yet he graduated in Top 3 of his class of over 400 students and attended an Ivy League school.  Not to toot my own horn (it's worn out and doesn't need any tooting), but just saying I can speak from experience : )

Lynn43
Lynn43

@living-in-outdated-ed  There are certainly very smart students who are not very good "test-takers" for many reason.  This test was nothing but a political ploy,  I'm glad it doesn't exist anymore.  I am a retired teacher, therefore, I'm not a disinterested, biased  by-stander making statements about a subject about which I know very little as many on this blog are.

Antagonist
Antagonist

Tests should be appropriate for the student. This needs to be revisited. However, the testing should be appropriate, the outcome should be honest, and the consequence should be true. Just what is it do we want the high school diploma to represent?

Astropig
Astropig

Wow. Interesting story.


My oldest has a special education diploma.This young man's experience pretty closely mirrors hers,minus the military ambitions.One characteristic does stand out-Most special ed and LD students that I met in my daughters education years share a common trait-they don't give up easily.They're tenacious in pursuit of a goal.Typically,the clock runs out before they master a subject and there's only a certain,finite time that they can attend school,so a lot of potential is unrealized. Astrokid 1 has parleyed her diploma (and vocational training) into a career, and instead of being forgotten and marginalized,is a productive,tax paying citizen that is involved in the community and does what a lot of readers here wouldn't do on a bet-care for the elderly.She's really good at it and actually enjoys the work. She has a heart as big as a whale and has actually changed her employers attitude about hiring the LD because of her exemplary attendance and dedication.


The point here is that the idea of a tiered diploma structure could be a good thing if designed and implemented fairly and equitably.Paired with vocational training that can harness the human capital locked up in kids like the subject,there is potential to better society with a return on investment that is off the scale.


I do agree with Ed that the military should keep their standards high.The U.S. armed forces of 2015 are not the army of 20 years ago.There is some high tech being used and deployed that only the pentagon can afford to buy. The military in this day should not be a last resort for the unemployable.

DrMonicaHenson
DrMonicaHenson

@Astropig My daughter, nearing age 30, was developmentally delayed when we adopted her from an orphanage in Romania when she was 3. She didn't learn to read until 4th grade. School was excruciating for her, but she was able to struggle her way to a high school diploma by age 19 (in NC, not GA). She spent a few years working as a houseparent for a privately owned group home that serves older teen girls struggling with mental illness, and a stint as a rehabilitation technican in a group home that serves mentally challenged young adults. She absolutely loves this work and has started community college in Asheville, NC, to earn an associate's degree in Human Services Technology. She placed out of math and is on the verge of placing out, finally, of remedial English, after nearly a full year of daily remedial classes and private tutoring. Sometimes she laments being so much older than the 18-year-old freshmen, but I remind her that all flowers bloom when they're ready, not at the same time. She will have a successful career and continue to be a productive, taxpaying citizen with a very rewarding vocation. The good thing about her career choice is that many employers provide room and board, making the low salaries less of a factor. She had her own apartment with all utilities paid when she was a houseparent.

Antagonist
Antagonist

I certainly hope they didn't give my oral surgeon his license to practice surgery because he's such a nice person and he'd taken the test enough times to prove that he's dedicated to dentistry. I really hope he passed it the first time because he had mastered the material necessary to be an outstanding dental surgeon.


Perhaps required reading for those "Under the Dome," particularly those making decisions in education, should read "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut. We do not all have the same talents and abilities and no law nor mandate can ever make that happen. What should be happening isn't.

Bernie31
Bernie31

Sometimes, The Truth is often painful to hear and accept. But to make it Go away or disappear, does not make it Less TRUE. The internship and the lack of the ability to read is True. all one needs to do is inquire with any long term member of the Georgia Dome to verify this actual fact of occurrence. It Happened as previously stated.

Bernie31
Bernie31

The Challenged Son mentioned here, is not the only one who has suffered from this fiasco and wrong headed thinking. Over the past decades, this testing has impacted Millions of Georgia students lives and their Futures. He is NOT alone by a LONG SHOT, in feeling this personal Pain. Many around all of Us are still feeling it to this very day. Those who could afford Private schooling, have always had an option, around this State mandated requirement. If you know what I mean. I am referring to the members of The Lucky Gene Pool Club. In the words of the much adored and supported George Zimmerman - " They Always, get away".

EdUktr
EdUktr

I wish the best for the challenged son.

But I also want the most qualified men and women defending our country. The complicated and expensive battlefield technology they will use in fact demands it.

Bernie31
Bernie31

This whole High School testing Fiasco was borne out of a Goober High school senior who spent a summer Internship in the Governor's Office. The Governor, quickly realized this Senior H.S. student could not read or write at a proficient level. As a result, this idea of mandatory testing grew support. There was also an underlying goal as well in implementing this requirement.  All knew the testing would greatly impact a certain group of Georgia students, as is often targeted for such evil cruelty from the Bigoted ones in the Gold Dome.

luckysnap
luckysnap

The teachers should be tested. Some college degrees today are worthless.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@luckysnap  No, no, NO!  That might damage their self-esteem.  If they fail the Praxis test, they should just be given a teaching certificate.  At least that is what the parent in this article might think.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

@class80olddog @luckysnap Praxis, shmaxis: no nationally normed content tests for OUR teachers.  Georgia uses the individual-to-this-state-so-we-can-set-our-own-cut-scores-and-not-be-compared-to-other-states GACE.

gactzn2
gactzn2

If a student is learning disabled, provide a test consistent with their disability that measures their learning, instead of using the same one for general education; or, graduate the student with a diploma that is tiered for the learning disabled.  If a child is learning disabled in school then the disability will continue to be an issue more than likely later on in life.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

"Self esteem": is highly overrated. Self knowledge is much more important. 


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I would like to see how the data was analyzed concerning those who score "higher" and "lower" vs college GPA.  Sometimes our state has sponsored some pretty silly "analysis."


Secondly, I don't believe the GHSGT was set to determine college-readiness, but to determine mastery of high school curricula.


I would also ask what kind of accommodations were allowed for a learning-disabled student to test?  Some classroom-level accommodations were probably not available in the testing situation, which would explain how he passed the course but not the exam.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The last point is pretty important.


Kudos to the young man for being willing to try many routes to get where he would like to be.  It would be great if all students were so motivated.  He may have to adjust his goals, but his persistence will always be helpful.