Hundreds of former Beaufort County students could get diplomas despite failing exit exam

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 1, 2014 

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Hundreds of people who long ago finished classes at Beaufort County high schools -- but didn't officially graduate because they failed the state's exit exam -- now qualify for diplomas, school officials say.

How and when those retroactive graduates will get their diplomas is still being worked out, however.

A new state law eliminates the exit exam as a requirement for graduation, meaning students who didn't graduate because they failed the exam can now qualify for diplomas. Those who were students in 1990 or afterward can file requests to get a diploma. The first year the exit exams were given was 1990.

The Beaufort County School District doesn't yet know how many requests it might get, but Board of Education Chairman Bill Evans said the number could be more than 500.

Superintendent Jeff Moss said it's difficult to estimate because many former students might have gone on to get a GED. But school officials agree it could be in the hundreds, district spokesman Jim Foster said.

The district is waiting for guidance from the S.C. Department of Education on how the process for retroactively granting diplomas will work. Moss said he hopes to hear from the department within a month.

Former students have until Dec. 31, 2015, to file requests for diplomas with their school boards, according to the law.

The education department is sending the graduation requirements for each school year since 1990 to districts so they can determine whether former students satisfied all other obligations for getting diplomas.

This graduation season in Beaufort County, about 30 seniors who didn't pass the exit exam but met all other graduation requirements will be able to march in commencement ceremonies that began Friday. The school board changed its graduation policy last week in response to the new law. But those students won't get a diploma until after the process for retroactively granting diplomas has been established.

School officials have not determined whether retroactive graduates will be publicly recognized. Moss said he doesn't think the district will hold a ceremony for past students to receive their diplomas.

For future ceremonies, after the state has designated a new test students must pass to get a diploma, Evans said he hopes principals will find a way to distinguish between students who met all requirements to graduate and those who satisfied only the credit requirements.

That's what Evans did when he was principal at Hilton Head Island High School before the district changed its rule in 2007, requiring students to meet all credit hours and pass the exit exam.

"A lot of question marks are still out there about how this process will work and how many petitions we will receive," Evans said. "But I do believe this is a good rule change. We needed a policy that lets everyone who completed the units participate."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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