EAGLE BEND (AP) -- It's basic-skills-test time at Eagle Valley Secondary School, and Melissa Rabenhorst and her family are nervous. A good student who locks up on tests, Missy retook the math test Thursday after previous failures. The 11th-grader thinks it went well this time. Well, she hopes it did.
After all, her diploma hangs in the balance. So, too, does her dream of studying photography and cosmetology in college.
Richard Lundgren, Missy's principal, refuses to take the chance that she or any struggling student might not graduate because they couldn't pass Minnesota's basic-skills tests. He is offering them an escape: a North Dakota high school diploma.
The 25-year principal believes state bureaucrats are handcuffing schools with an over-reliance on tests and a misguided approach to graduation standards.
Minnesota requires students to pass math and reading skills tests, first given in eighth grade, and a writing test, first given in 10th grade, to graduate.
"We seem to forget that for kids, learning is a process," Lundgren said. "Our job is to help them to deal with it, not expect them to do it perfectly."
Some kids can be strong students but terrible testers, he said. Requiring that every student pass the skills tests to graduate is grossly unfair, he believes.
So rather than let his students twist in the wind over whether they passed the tests, he is encouraging them to consider taking a course or two through an independent study center in Fargo, N.D., a move that would allow them to earn a diploma there.
North Dakota has no basic skills tests, its graduation standards are nearly identical to the Eagle Valley School District's, and students can earn a diploma with only a semester's work in a study hall if their other credits are accepted.
The North Dakota option may be chosen by only one or two students a year, but it has won praise from parents who agree that the state shouldn't base a child's academic success on a single test.
State officials, however, take a dim view of Minnesota kids shopping elsewhere for a diploma.
"We have some serious concerns about Minnesota state aid flowing up to that school district, and then those kids graduating with a North Dakota diploma," said Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the state Department of Children, Families and Learning. "We need them to finish with Minnesota diplomas. And we need them to follow the system, and that includes basic-skills tests."
Some of Lundgren's teachers also question the need for the North Dakota option.
Curt Gjerstad, an agriculture instructor and president of the Eagle Valley Education Association, said Lundgren was looking for a way to "poke a hole in grad standards and the basic-skills tests" and was simply waiting for the right student to prove his point.
A student who earned a diploma through the North Dakota center last year now is attending college. Lundgren said that this year a few juniors, but no seniors, might use the option if they don't pass the tests this week.
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