February 10, 2005
An opinion issued Wednesday from state Attorney General Terry Goddard will allow thousands of high school juniors with learning disabilities to relax this month when they face Arizona’s high-stakes graduation test for the third time.
The formal opinion, issued at the request of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, says educators and parents working as teams at each school can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to make the state’s exit exam a diploma requirement for learningdisabled students.
Federal law has authorized these site-based teams to customize graduation requirements for special-education students for several years. But a state law that requires high school graduates to pass Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards starting with the class of 2006 created confusion about whether specialeducation students could be exempt.
"There has been some anxiety among special-education parents, so this should be a relief for them," Horne said.
David Lane, a specialeducation advocate in the Mesa Unified School District, hailed the opinion as a major victory.
"That does take a lot of pressure off — more for the parents than the students," he said.
Lane dismissed concerns that Goddard’s opinion will tempt some parents and educators to abuse the process of establishing individualized education programs as way to circumvent the AIMS requirement.
"You might have some people jumping on late in the game, but I don’t see that happening," Lane said. "Most of the students affected have had an IEP in place since kindergarten."
Despite the opinion, federal law still requires all Arizona students to take AIMS regardless of whether a passing score is required for graduation. Starting on Feb. 22, the state will issue different versions of AIMS to high school students who function below the fifth-grade level and below the third-grade level.
Goddard’s opinion came on the eve of a scheduled debate today at the state House of Representatives regarding HB1352, an AIMS bill that would authorize broad exemptions for special-education students. Horne said Wednesday’s opinion makes the bill unnecessary, but lobbyists for the bill disagreed.
Chris Usher, the parent of a special-education student at Horizon High School
in northeast Phoenix, said the bill would still answer several questions regarding specialneeds students that Goddard’s opinion does not address.