A new state law may help adults – those in high school from 1990 to the present – get a high school diploma, under specific circumstances, if they never received one while in school.

Former students can now petition for a diploma, but only if they obtained all their academic credit units, but did not pass a required exit exam.

With Gov. Nikki Haley's signature, the S.C. General Assembly has abandoned the exit exam, also known as the High School Assessment Program, or HSAP. Beginning in 2015, high school seniors can graduate with required credit units without taking a mandatory exit exam.

The adults who fall into the earlier category may submit a petition in all school districts, including the Aiken County School District, said Dr. Tim Yarborough, high school academic officer.

“I've had about 20 calls from people who are spread out over the years,” he said. “I expect to get more through word of mouth until December 2015, the limit on the new legislation.”

Seniors in the current 2013-14 year who have not passed the exit exam remain under the old rules. However, they can submit a petition just as the former students can.

Yarborough does expect additional adults to seek petitions over the next 18 months. However, other long-standing, available options could keep those numbers down.

The School District will offer its annual summer school session, and current students can take any required classes, the HSAP or both. They can then participate in a traditional graduation ceremony.

Any former student can go through a similar process in the District's adult education program. Nearly 40 people did so at an adult commencement event on Wednesday.

In a press release from the State Department of Education, Superintendent Mick Zais said he has communicated with all districts. He is encouraging them to allow current seniors – those who have not passed the exit exam – the opportunity to march with their classmates in graduation ceremonies. While some districts may fall into that category, that situation has never been a problem in the Aiken District, Yarborough said.

“If they haven't passed the HSAP, we're still going to treat them like everybody else at graduation. It's the same with special education students who get a certificate at graduation, not a diploma. I want these students to march,” he said.

The use of HSAP as a required graduation test was never a wise decision, Yarborough said. A new, and as of yet undetermined assessment, will be introduced in 2015. Again, that test will have no specific impact on graduation.

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001.