State OKs new tests for graduation High school seniors of 2004 would be first to face requirement

'Moving into a new phase'

State board wants teacher training, help for failing students

December 11, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The Maryland State Board of Education pushed the state closer to high-stakes graduation tests yesterday by making the new exams a high school requirement, beginning with the Class of 2004.

In a series of unanimous decisions, board members set a tentative timetable for phasing in as many as 10 tests in four subjects. The tests are supposed to be more rigorous than the functional tests now required for high school graduation.

Passing three tests would be required for the first class, but that could be changed, as could the plan to require seven tests for the Class of 2005 and 10 tests for the Class of 2006.

The state board also opened the door for elimination of one of the state functional tests, in citizenship, next year.

The board tried to mollify some of its harshest critics by calling for state-funded programs to get failing students the help they need and to provide adequate training for teachers who would be expected to prepare students for the new tests.

The board said it wants those programs in operation before the first tests are required to be taken, which would be in the 2000-2001 school year under the current plan.

"I'm thrilled. I think we are moving into a new phase in our whole reform effort," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who has made the new high school tests a key part of her agenda after her initiation of required state tests for all third-, fifth- and eighth-graders in the 1992-1993 school year,

She endorsed changes in her plans that were approved yesterday by the board. "I'm excited about the modifications that say this is not a static process," Grasmick said.

The board rejected a proposal by President Rose LaPlaca to extend the phase-in period to 2012, four years longer than recommended by Grasmick. LaPlaca said she was responding to public complaints that the state was trying to do too much too fast.

Other board members disagreed. "We are trying to make major changes," said Raymond V. "Buzz" Bartlett. "If we take what have to define as a lackadaisical attitude toward change, change won't happen. We've got to set some goals. We've got to go after it."

In addition to approving the tests for graduation, the board: Agreed that students entering ninth grade in the fall of 2000 will have to pass at least three tests -- in English, math and government -- to graduate in 2004.

Approved an additional, but optional, test in biology for those students. Each county would decide whether to require the science exam.

Agreed to waive the functional test in citizenship, beginning next fall, for systems that can show that citizenship is included in their social studies curricula.

Originally, Grasmick said the state would not eliminate any of the functional tests in reading, writing, math and citizenship until the new tests began.

She recommended possible elimination of the citizenship test next year, however, to accommodate teachers who said they could not prepare students for that test while they were changing curricula for new high school standards.

Board Vice President Edward Andrews proposed two conditions for the high school graduation tests that won him praise from his colleagues and from the tests' opponents. He sought a remedial program that would begin in elementary schools and a teacher training program aimed at improving instruction.

"I don't believe we can ethically hold students to high standards unless we give them a qualified teacher for every period, every day of every grade," said Andrews, who has frequently expressed concerns about the fairness of giving the same tests to students who are from different backgrounds and attend 24 school systems.

"Children don't pick their parents or their ZIP codes," he said. "I have a real problem putting all the burden on the students and their parents."

Board members agreed with Andrews' proposals and asked education officials to draw up a resolution on which the board could vote at its January meeting. They also asked Grasmick to report to them quarterly, as the tests are developed, on how each school district is progressing in its remedial and staff training programs.

Maryland PTA President Carmela Veit, a leading opponent of the high school tests and of the state tests given in lower grades, complimented the board on its commitment to teacher training and helping failing students. She said members' comments yesterday assured her that they had listened to parents' concerns.

"They were very, very responsive to so many concerns. We're at a new point in the process," Veit said.

Nearly everyone agreed that Andrews' proposal would raise the cost of developing the tests, which is estimated at $3.8 million for the first phase and at as much as $15.5 million if students are eventually required to take 10 tests.

"The costs will be very very great," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "I think the money is there if they decide to do it."

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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