La. Offers Online Exit Exam for Displaced Students Thousands of Louisiana high-school seniors displaced by Hurricane Katrina must still pass their state's exit exam to receive their diplomas. Louisiana is starting an online exam for students to receive a "distance diploma," but it must still locate and inform students scattered across the country about the exam.
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La. Offers Online Exit Exam for Displaced Students

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La. Offers Online Exit Exam for Displaced Students

La. Offers Online Exit Exam for Displaced Students

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Here in the US, the Louisiana high school students scattered across the country by Hurricane Katrina face a major obstacle in earning their diplomas. Classes back home prepared them for their state's high school exit exam, not for tests in their new or temporary homes. So Louisiana's Department of Education is offering what it calls the Distance Diploma Program. It allows 11th and 12th graders displaced by Katrina to take the Louisiana test wherever they are to qualify for graduation. From member station KAZU, Ben Adler reports.

BEN ADLER reporting:

Just a few months ago 17-year-old Dan Smolken(ph) was a sophomore at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans. Now after his home was flooded by Hurricane Katrina, he's a junior at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, just south of San Francisco.

DAN SMOLKEN (Student): I'm really not sure what I'm going to do next for school.

ADLER: Students like Dan, who went through the Louisiana school system most of their lives, are now pretty much stuck in no-man's-land.

SMOLKEN: If I do go back to Louisiana and get a diploma there, maybe, or I'll stay out here for the rest of the year, it's kind of up in the air right now.

ADLER: As many as 20,000 current 11th and 12th graders across the country have been grappling with the same dilemma. Now the Louisiana Department of Education wants to help those students.

Mr. SCOTT NORTON (Louisiana Department of Education): Even though they're living in another state, I think they have still some ties back home and would like to earn that diploma.

ADLER: Scott Norton with the Louisiana DOE is organizing the Distance Diploma Program.

Mr. NORTON: They've been through a lot, and if they can earn their Louisiana diploma and if that's important to that student, I think we all want to make that happen.

ADLER: But first students still have to pass Louisiana's Graduate Exit Examination, or GEE. So the DOE contracted with a company that had previously run the state's online practice test, Monterey, California-based Pacific Metrics. Executive vice president Stella Gibbs.

Ms. STELLA GIBBS (Pacific Metrics): Many different organizations around the country are trying to help Louisiana students in various ways, and this is one way that they can be directly helped to get this diploma for their future employment abilities.

ADLER: But finding the students eligible to take the GEE online and then get their Louisiana diplomas won't be easy. The Louisiana DOE has no idea where these students are, and it has neither the time, nor the money to do more than send out a letter to the rest of the states, informing them of the program. That means the burden falls to the states to find and inform the students, and that can be a problem. California, for example, knows there are at least 1,100 displaced students in the state, but it only knows where they are by county, not by school and definitely not by name. In fact, says Leanne Wheeler with the California Department of Education, most schools don't even report the new arrivals.

Ms. LEANNE WHEELER (California Department of Education): Students are coming in very slowly, one, two, three maybe at a district, and they're not really presenting a huge impact on our school districts, because our school districts are enrolling them and not really even knowing that they're a Katrina hurricane victim.

ADLER: But at least one state inundated with displaced students is in better shape. Texas knows where its more than 40,000 Katrina enrollees, as they're know, are located, and it's worked with Louisiana to put together the Distance Diploma Program. Now, says a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, the state has sent a letter to school district administrators with instructions on how students can participate. For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler in Monterey, California.

CHIDEYA: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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