Md. board gives tentative OK to high school graduation tests Panel proceeds slowly, vows to keep process open

February 27, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

With extreme caution, the State Board of Education moved ahead yesterday with the design of proposed high school graduation tests, deciding on the number and types of tests to develop but promising to keep the thorny process open.

With little debate, the board told the tests' designers to work on 12 exams covering four subjects, to incorporate essay and short-answer questions into the tests and to make sure the tests could be used to distinguish between average and above-average students.

In nearly each case, however, board members left an escape hatch in a program that could ultimately deny high school seniors diplomas. For instance, the board agreed that the tests "can be used" as a graduation requirement -- but stopped short of saying they would be. "This is a work in progress," board member Morris Jones of Stevensville said.

The board decided more than a year ago to implement the graduation tests beginning with the Class of 2004. Yesterday, the board ruled that:

The College Board, a testing service hired by the department, will design 12 tests, which could be phased-in over several years or implemented in one year.

Two types of tests will be designed, both of them requiring short and long essays.

At first, the tests will be given twice each year, with a makeup test administered after each.

The tests will measure individual students' performance as well as school and districtwide performance.

The tests could be used to determine levels of diplomas, such as honors, and how well students do in a certain subject.

The two types of tests are expected to cost at least $23.3 million annually.

One type would be based on documents, laboratory reports and similar materials. This design would be used for the math tests.

The other type, based on real-life learning situations, could cost an extra $3 million annually. That type is recommended for English, science and social studies.

A traditional multiple-choice test, with an $11 million annual price tag, and a more complicated portfolio design were rejected.

Jones and fellow board member Ed Andrews of College Park said they had come to yesterday's meeting intending to vote against the tests but changed their minds after hearing opening remarks by board President Christopher T. Cross and state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Particularly effective, said Andrews, was Grasmick's pledge to appoint a statewide council of educators, parents, local superintendents, students and business leaders to advise her on the tests.

Grasmick said that she would appoint the council within two weeks, and that the appointees would include Carmela Veit, president of the Maryland PTA, which represents 240,000 parents. The group called this week for delaying the program until parents' concerns could be addressed.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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