Grasmick relaxes exam time frame Proposed exit tests should be phased in, schools chief suggests

'It's a measured approach'

Critics question the number of exams and need for program

October 29, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Moving Maryland ever closer to rigorous high school standards, Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick recommended yesterday making new tests a graduation requirement, but phasing them in more slowly than originally proposed.

Under her plan, students in the Class of 2004 -- this year's sixth-graders -- would be the first required to pass the high-stakes tests to graduate.

However, those students would have to pass the statewide tests in only English, math and social studies. They would not have to take the less demanding functional tests now required for graduation.

The number of required tests would increase gradually, until the Class of 2007 and subsequent classes would be required to pass 10 tests in four core subjects: English, math, social studies and science.

"It's a measured approach," Grasmick said of her recommendations to the state Board of Education. "Clearly, it raises the standards.

"It respects local decision-making. It permits, within the phase-in, the kind of restructuring and staff development that is required to do this well."

Board members, scheduled to vote on the recommendations Dec. 10, responded sparingly to them yesterday. They will hold a work session Nov. 17 to discuss the recommendations.

The proposed graduation tests are intended to continue elementary and middle school reforms jump-started several years ago by the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Board President Rose LaPlaca said Grasmick's proposal "met a lot of concerns."

"If you are going to raise standards, you have to test those standards," LaPlaca said.

In a public hearing before Grasmick made her recommendations, people from across Maryland said they support high school improvements -- but not necessarily by the imposition of graduation tests.

Almost everyone urged caution in the number of tests given and the speed with which they are imposed. Some opposed the tests.

"I want more learning in school, not more testing," said Mary Pat Kahle, a Baltimore County parent. "I want my tax dollars used to teach, not test."

She said she had attended many meetings on the proposed tests and had read two lengthy documents published by the company designing the tests.

Grasmick answered some critics, such as PTA representatives, by noting in her recommendations that the tests would not be the only graduation requirement. She also proposed that school districts use the tests as final exams for the courses involved and reduce time spent on testing.

In another bow to local school systems, she proposed that districts design required courses as they prefer -- such as combining two sciences in one course -- as long as learning goals endorsed by the state are taught.

But districts would not be allowed to write their versions of the tests, under her proposal.

In the phase-in plan Grasmick offered, the first tests developed -- English I, algebra, geometry and government -- would be given in a pilot program in 1999 and 2000. They would be given for credit to students starting ninth grade in September 2000; before graduating, those students would have to pass English I, government and one of the math tests.

Students entering high school in 2001 would be required to take those three exams, and three more -- English 2 and two science tests. The phase-in would continue until students were passing 10 tests as part of their graduation requirements, she said.

"I think doing three or four of them [the first year] is appropriate," said Karl K. Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. "How you move from not having tests to having them is important. This can be a very positive thing."

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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