High school graduation tests face two critical votes today

December 10, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Seizing an 11th-hour opportunity to have their say, opponents and supporters of proposed graduation tests gave the state's top education officials sharply contrasting views yesterday on how to make high schools better.

The State Board of Education will vote today on two issues critical to keeping the test development moving. It will decide if students must pass the tests to earn a diploma and how those tests would be phased in, beginning with the Class of 2004.

In the recommendation before the board, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is proposing that ninth-graders in 2000 -- this year's sixth-graders -- be required to pass three tests, one each in English, math and government, to graduate. Current fifth-graders would have to pass seven tests as ninth-graders -- two each in English, math and science, and one in government.

Led by the Maryland PTA, opponents repeated their concerns about the cost of the proposed tests, the fairness of giving the same test to students from widely diverse school districts and what they perceive as the board's failure to listen to parents and answer their questions.

"I want to believe you will go home tonight and deliberate this issue with all the discomfort that should come with such a serious endeavor," Baltimore County resident Mary Pat Kahle told the board.

"Remember, there is no public support for the concept of tying these high school assessments to the Maryland high school diploma," continued Kahle. She has spoken repeatedly for those who say the board needs to continue improving elementary and middle school curricula before moving on to high school reforms.

Those who favored the tests, including a student from Charles County and two administrators' groups, said there is a need for tougher standards, for courses that prepare students for the 21st century and for students to take responsibility for their educations.

Saying that students don't care about failing tests or even entire courses, Laura Hearn urged the board to implement the tests.

Though the votes expected today are necessary to move the testing process along, they are not irreversible. The board, which at times has appeared reluctant to commit to the high-stakes tests, can continue to change the number of tests required and the schedule for phasing them in.

Previously, board members have appeared split over how they will vote on the two issues.

The board committed to the concept of graduation tests nearly two years ago.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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