State lawmakers are justified in their anger over how the Rendell administration tried to back-door new high school graduation tests. But they should not let their ire derail a proposal to develop state end-of-course exams that would raise the bar on student achievement.

The administration upset members of the Senate Education Committee with its move to sign a $201 million contract to develop the tests.

Only one problem: There wasn't an agreement yet on the controversial tests.

Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak says the state has proposed spending $21 million next year and that any spending on the tests in subsequent years would require legislative approval.

The Senate this week backed a separate bill that blocked funding for the exams and required the legislature to first approve the exams.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Jane Orie (R., Allegheny), would scuttle plans by the state to propose graduation test regulations next month. Orie cites the state's projected $3.2 billion revenue shortfall, saying this is no the time for a major new education initiative.

Others have a legitimate gripe with the process and believe they were blindsided by the contract while negotiations were ongoing to reach an agreement on the tests.

Both are valid points. But lawmakers shouldn't lose sight of a worthy proposal that is in the best interest of thousands of public school students. Pennsylvania needs tougher graduation standards.

That process produces thousands of empty diplomas handed out every year. Many seniors leave high school without the basic math and reading skills needed to go to college or get a job.

A recent poll found that 80 percent of employers supported end-of-course tests and only about half deemed a diploma a good indicator of skills.

Zahorchak has a plan to again make a diploma mean something by creating graduation tests in core subjects such as reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.

Instead of students taking a comprehensive test their senior year, they would take a test on each subject at the time they finished that course.

That would give educators a more accurate snapshot of what students know at any given time and not wait to test them on everything they were supposed to learn over four years.

Pennsylvania needs to raise the bar on graduation requirements. The legislature should work with the administration to make it happen.