Disabled Students Sue Alaska Over Exit Exam

K-12 Testing

Disabled students in Alaska filed a federal class-action suit in March claiming the state exit exam discriminates against them. They are asking for testing accommodations as well as alternative assessments for those who have difficulty demonstrating their skills and knowledge on paper-and-pencil tests.


Two-thirds of special needs students in Alaska had been at risk of not graduating because they had failed the exam, according to Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) in Oakland, CA, which filed the suit on behalf of the students.


Stephen Tollafield, an attorney with DRA, noted that the state had agreed to excuse students with disabilities in the class of 2004 from the exit exam graduation requirement.  “We are currently in negotiations with the state to nail down a more comprehensive settlement agreement to address access for students with disabilities,” Tollafield said.


Another DRA attorney, Sid Wolinsky, explained that the plaintiffs simply want protections guaranteed them by state and federal law. “We’re not seeking to stop the whole test, we’re not seeking to set aside standards, we’re not seeking damages,” said Wolinsky. “We’re seeking that the safeguards required by both federal and Alaska law be implemented.”


DRA has filed similar suits in Oregon and California. The 2000 Oregon suit resulted in the creation of a national panel of education and disability experts who recommended a series of measures. These were put in place in 2001 to protect disabled children taking standardized tests and include broadening the list of accommodations available to students with learning disabilities, providing an alternative to the standard assessment, instituting an appeals process, conducting further research to ensure the validity of the tests with respect to students with disabilities, and providing greater training and information about the assessment to students, teachers, and parents. The California case is unresolved, and the exit exam has been delayed for all students until no earlier than 2006.