The Assembly on Monday approved a bill temporarily easing Nevada's testing standards for high school graduation, and boosting the grade point average that students need to qualify for one of the state's Millennium Scholarships.
AB179, approved 31-11, removes for two years the requirement that high school students pass the math section of their proficiency exams in order to get diplomas.
Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, sponsored the measure, which now moves to the Senate. She said high school proficiency exams need to be studied to ensure they are testing students' knowledge of what the state requires them to learn.
"They are testing algebra, calculus and geometry, which are not required courses, so you're setting the students up to fail," Giunchigliani said.
The integrity of the testing is necessary to bring fairness to a system where home-schooled students don't need to take the test and students can get diplomas through correspondence courses from other states, she added.
Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, voted against the bill. He said 75 to 80 percent of students pass the math portion of the test, even if they have to take it several times, and strong testing requirements are essential to ensure students are learning the required material.
"I think if we'd have had a math proficiency exam when Gov. (Kenny) Guinn was in high school we wouldn't be in the budget problem we're in now," Beers said, in a jab at Guinn's bid to raise taxes to cover a budget shortfall.
Under the measure, students would still take the math part of a proficiency test, but for the next two years seniors would only have to pass the reading and writing sections of the test to get a diploma.
AB179 requires an audit of the math section. The 2005 Legislature would use the study to decide whether to reinstate the requirement to pass the math test.
Beers pointed to the failure of some of the state's Millennium Scholars as one of the main reasons for high testing standards.
Nearly a third of Nevada's Millennium Scholarship winners -- who had grade-point averages of 3.0 or better in high school -- end up in remedial college courses.
AB179 has a provision raising the required grade point average to qualify for a state Millennium Scholarship from 3.0 to 3.1 for students graduating in 2005 and 2006 and to 3.25 for those graduating in 2007.
Other changes include requiring Millennium scholars to complete their education in six years instead of the current eight. The bill also mandates that college students maintain a 2.6 grade-point average to continue getting the money. The current requirement is a 2.0 GPA, or C average.
The $10,000 scholarships go to Nevada high school students attending a state college or university.