Students with Disabilities Can Graduate with Diploma in 2004 Without
Passing Exit Exam
whole future depended on this decision. Now I can get on with my life!
I'm so relieved."
for disabled children and for the State of Alaska and Anchorage School
District reached an agreement, filed with federal court, which will
allow all students with disabilities in the class of 2004 to graduate
whether or not they have passed the high school exit exam.
Plaintiffs' lawyers believe that over 500 students will be immediately
Class Action Lawsuit
On March 16, 2004, children with disabilities and their parents filed
a statewide class action lawsuit challenging Alaska's controversial
High School Graduation Qualifying Examination (HSGQE). The lawsuit
charges that the test violates both federal and state law, because
it discriminates against students with disabilities in multiple ways
and, as implemented, causes students with disabilities to fail, no
matter how smart and hardworking they might be. The students filed
the lawsuit only after repeated requests to negotiate a solution with
the State of Alaska were unsuccessful.
High-Stakes Test Will Not Be Used to Deny
The defendants to the action, including the Alaska State Department
of Education and Early Development and the Anchorage School District
-- after plaintiffs' request for an early negotiation -- made a critical
and positive decision for high school seniors with disabilities who
are graduating this year by signing an agreement filed in court this
morning stipulating to interim relief for these students.
states that the "HSGQE test results will not be used to deny
any class member a diploma in the spring of 2004 provided that the
class member meets all other district criteria for graduation and
a diploma." Class members are all students who have an Individualized
Education Program or Section 504 Plan who have or will be required
to take the HSGQE. The stipulation was filed on shortened time with
the Honorable James K. Singleton, for his immediate consideration.
The court must approve the stipulation for the agreement to be effective.
"This stipulation is a substantial accomplishment and represents
total relief for hundreds of high school seniors with disabilities
who have satisfied all graduation requirements except for passing
all sections of the HSGQE," says attorney David Fleurant of the
Disability Law Center of Alaska, attorney for the plaintiffs.
According to pro bono plaintiff's attorney Joan Wilson of Davis Wright
Tremaine LLP, "This agreement today could not have happened without
the total cooperation of the Attorney General Renkes and Assistant
Attorney General Neil Slotnick, the State Board of Education, the
Anchorage School District and its counsel Howard Trickey, and Roger
Sampson and Richard Smiley. Their constructive approach to resolving
this very time sensitive issue on a rapid, but well-thought out basis
clearly indicates a willingness to place the interests of the students
In the stipulation, the parties agreed not only to the interim relief
for this year's graduating seniors. The parties further agreed that
the lawsuit met the requirements of federal rules for filing a class
action and agreed that the named students could serve as representatives
of the class. These students include Alexander Noon, Kendall Leibach,
Douglas Mate, Tiana Lupie, and Irene Takak. Organizational plaintiff
the Learning Disabilities Association of Alaska is also a party to
Parties to Negotiate
In addition, the Parties agreed to a temporary suspension of the lawsuit
to pursue negotiations. By stipulation, the parties agreed to hold
their first negotiation session on or before May 18, 2004, and to
report back to the court no later than July 9, 2004, regarding the
progress of their negotiations. "It is our hope to find a legislative,
administrative, or negotiated solution in this short timeframe that
will prevent the HSGQE exam from being an insurmountable barrier to
all Alaska's students with disabilities," Wilson said.
Students & Families Elated and Relieved
Plaintiffs and their parents met the announcement with relief and
Doug Mate, a high school senior with a learning disability in math,
is registered to enter the Army in June. "I honestly didn't know
if I was going to get a high school diploma or a discharge notice
from the Army. I didn't know if I would be getting my $40,000 scholarship
for the Calvary Scouts or have to spend time and additional money
to be able to pass the math section of the HSGQE. My whole future
depended on this decision. Now I can get on with my life! I'm so relieved."
Plaintiff Learning Disabilities Association of Alaska advocates for
the rights of individuals with learning disabilities.
Matt Wappett a member of the board of directors is thrilled at this
initial move toward equal access skills demonstration. "LDA Alaska
believes in students with disabilities. We believe when students are
taught the appropriate curriculum, and are provided alternate methods
of demonstrating their abilities, many students with learning disabilities
will not only meet, but exceed our expectations when it comes to Alaska
state educational standards."
Bipartisan Support in Legislature
"Although this agreement is critical to the Class of 2004, a
significant amount of work remains to ensure that students with disabilities
in future graduating classes have a fair chance to demonstrate their
mastery of state educational standards," according to Fleurant.
Several bills have been introduced by legislators on both sides of
the aisle in the State Senate and House, revealing bipartisan support
for fixing the problems with the HSGQE.
Despite the hard work that that lies ahead, through their courage
in coming forward, plaintiffs have accomplished a fantastic outcome
for themselves and many other students across the State of Alaska.
Disability Law Center of Alaska
Disability Rights Advocates
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Action Suit Filed Against Alaska's High-Stakes Exit Exam
16, 2004) Children
with disabilities and their parents filed a federal class-action lawsuit
against the Alaska Board of Education, challenging Alaska's controversial
High School exit exam.
news, publications about high-stakes testing.
Stakes Lawsuit in Massachusetts: How High Are the Stakes? In September,
2002, six students filed suit against the state department of education
and their school district, alleging that the MCAS exam discriminates
against students with disabilities, minority students, and students
with limited-English skills. (October 1, 2002)
with Learning Disabilities Settle Class Action Suit Against Oregon.
Panel of National Experts Make Recommendations About Testing of Students
with Disabilities. (February 1, 2001)