State education officials are thinking about getting rid of the so-called Graduation Exit Exam for high school students and replacing it with a test for ninth graders.
That way, kids will have three years to get on track and graduate with enough knowledge to go out into the world and make something of themselves.
"We’ve got to do something - and the fact that only two out of three high school students graduates proves it," Meg Casper, director of public relations for the Louisiana Department of Education, tells the Herald-Guide.
"As it stands, children who don't pass the GEE exam can't graduate. If they don’t take remedial classes, their school career is over.
“We need to identify at-risk students early so we can offer the kinds of classes and support they need to succeed.”
Casper says the current GEE exam could be replaced with a new exam - or multiple exams - as early as 2009 if everyone agrees it’s a good idea.
Under one possible scenario, students would be required to pass tests in math, English and either science or social studies to be eligible to graduate from high school.
Tests would be offered more than once to students who didn’t pass.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco's Louisiana High School Redesign Commission proposed the recommendations to reduce the state's high school dropout rate of 33 percent.
The new exams would target ninth-grade students in more than 30 parishes across the state. Fewer than six in 10 students who started ninth grade in 2001 managed to graduate within four years. That's one of the lowest rates in the country.
GEE tests came under fire because graduation rates are declining and dropout rates are increasing.
As a result, says Blanco, the state’s poverty levels have increased because many young adults aren’t qualified to hold jobs that are available but require workers to have basic skills.
Louisiana adopted a testing policy in 1991 that required students beginning in 10th grade to take the GEE test and demonstrate basic competency in composition, language arts, and mathematics to be eligible for graduation.
The new standards proposed by Blanco would eliminate the GEE testing. But they would require all freshmen to take four years of math starting in 2008-09 - a new requirement. An additional year of science, social studies and English also would be required - that, too, would be new.
St. Charles Parish Schools public relations director Rochelle Cancienne and schools Superintendent Rodney Lafon declined to comment for this report. St. Charles Parish Schools statistics obtained from the state Department of Education show that parish students who took the GEE in 2006 did much better than average, even with post-Katrina difficulties.
"I think getting rid of the GEE exam is a great idea," an educator in the parish, who requested anonymity, tells the Herald-Guide.