- Associated Press - Friday, May 23, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley is urging officials across South Carolina to let seniors participate in graduation ceremonies if the only thing blocking their walk down the aisle is the state exit exam.

Haley noted in a letter to district superintendents and school board members that a law she signed last month ends the 3-decade-old requirement that high school students pass an exit exam to graduate.

The law specifies that it takes effect with the graduating class of 2015. But it allows former students who didn’t graduate solely because of the exam to petition their school board to retroactively receive a diploma.

Haley believes schools should let current seniors affected by the change walk with their classmates, since the law allows them to receive their diploma later anyway. She asked districts to process petition requests from eligible Class of 2014 students by July, to potentially help them secure financial aid for college admission this fall.

“It has come to my attention that the combination of individual district policy and the timing of this act has resulted in some members of the Class of 2014 being excluded from their graduation ceremony, despite the fact that they are members of the Class of 2014 and, under this new law, will receive their diplomas this year,” she wrote in her letter released late Friday.

Her spokesman, Doug Mayer, said Haley learned it was an issue in Beaufort County. While it appears officials there have decided to let students walk, the governor wanted all school superintendents to know how she thinks they should handle it, he said.

Advocates for children with disabilities have long pushed for an end to the exit exam requirement, saying the High School Assessment Program can be the lone hindrance for students who can otherwise earn the 24 credits needed for a South Carolina diploma. Business leaders also pushed to toss a test that provides no useful information to students or their future employers.

The law Haley signed April 14 replaces the exit exam with tests considered more useful to students’ future success, with scores that could go on work resumes or college admissions applications.

Next school year, the High School Assessment Program won’t exist. Instead, 11th-graders will take two tests.

The law specifies one will be ACT’s WorkKeys, a work-skills assessment system that awards certificates for qualifying scores, from bronze to platinum, which students can take to employers. The other will test for college readiness. That specific test hasn’t been picked yet. It could be either the SAT or ACT college-entrance exam.

The switch from HSAP followed recommendations by South Carolina’s independent Education Oversight Committee, which is made up of legislators, business leaders and educators. The nearly $4 million the state currently spends on HSAP will be redirected to the other tests.

South Carolina teens have taken an exit exam since 1986. Those who don’t pass both the English and math sections in their sophomore year have multiple chances to try again. Last year, 82 percent of first-time test-takers statewide passed both.

The law specifies that those who receive a diploma through the petition process will not be counted toward that school’s graduation rate, either for the Class of 2014 or previous classes. Former students have until Dec. 31, 2015, to request a diploma under the law.

The law requires the state Education Department to advertise this option across the state by early June.

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