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Competency Test is on the Outs, but Standards Remain

July 12, 2008

By Lisa Boone-Wood, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

Jul. 12–Graduates across the state took one last look at their high schools as students last month. Some left with high-school diplomas and others took home certificates of attendance.

The difference is, the students who received high-school diplomas can expect a somewhat typical application process to jobs, colleges and universities, but a student with a certificate of attendance could have to either get a GED before applying or hunt for an employer that accepts certificates of attendance.

A student who graduates with a certificate of attendance has completed all course requirements but failed to pass the state’s competency test, said Ken Simington, the assistant superintendent of student services for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

Only 18 seniors in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools got certificates of attendance in the 2007-08 school year; 2,944 students received diplomas, Simington said.

In the 2006-07 school year, 12 students got certificates of attendance and 2,794 students got diplomas.

Certificates of attendance were first given out after the State Board of Education approved the N. C. competency test. The competency test took effect beginning with ninth-graders in 1994-95.

This year’s rising seniors, the class of 2009, will be the last class required to pass the state competency test, which measures students’ abilities in reading and math.

The competency test will be eliminated, but certificates of attendance will still be an option for students who don’t meet the requirements for a diploma.

Seniors in the class of 2010 who want to receive a diploma will have to complete a four-part graduation project approved by a graduation-project adviser and pass five end-of-course exams — Algebra 1, English 1, Biology, U.S. History, and Civics and Economics, school officials said.

Most colleges, universities and employers consider the high-school diploma the standard completion document from high school, and it is one of the first things they look for when deciding to enroll or employ a recent high-school graduate.

Students who are at risk of not receiving a diploma “are not getting surprised on the last day of the year,” said Don Martin, the superintendent for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “They know going their whole term that this is what I’m missing and this is what I need to be successful.

“There’s a constant kind of review.”

There are options for students before getting a certificate of attendance — summer school, competency test preparation classes and retaking the test, Martin said.

More than 200 seniors dropped out of school before the end of the school year, Martin said.

Members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board said at the board’s last meeting that they were planning to take a look at options for seniors before they drop out of school.

One option to be considered is an option that would allow students to graduate with the minimum state requirements, Martin said.

The school board is also considering revising an agreement with Forsyth Tech to ask the community college to adjust its adult high-school diploma program so that its program requirements mirror the school system’s for any student who dropped out of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system, he said.

Certificates of attendance are not graduation certificates. Graduation certificates are awarded to students who are certified as exceptional children in special-education programs.

Some exceptional-children students are eligible for a standard course of study diploma and can receive Occupational Preparation diplomas.

Lisa Boone-Wood can be reached at 727-7232 or at lboone-wood@wsjournal.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

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