State educators voice opposition to proposal for second-tier diploma

Group suggests change to superintendent's plan

January 16, 2004|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Maryland's powerful associations of school chiefs and boards of education have given a cold shoulder to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's proposal for a second-tier "local" diploma to be awarded to students who can't quite make the grade on the new high school achievement tests.

The Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland has overwhelmingly recommended that the state retain the single diploma. But the group also supports a change that would allow students to graduate by achieving a combined, or composite, score on the tests in algebra, biology, English and government, rather than having to pass all four tests.

Such a policy would "give a little leeway to someone who was very bright in math and science but might be on the edge in the other two tests," said James J. Lupis Jr., executive director of the superintendents' group.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education hasn't taken a formal position, but Carl W. Smith, the group's executive director, said yesterday that the reaction of local board members to Grasmick's proposal "has been one of skepticism and opposition. I haven't seen anyone salute smartly."

Carroll County board member Susan G. Holt criticized the plan at a board meeting Wednesday. "We'd have to put glass in front of us if we did this in our county," she said. "They'd be throwing things at us."

The state Board of Education approved Grasmick's proposal with a 9-to-2 vote at its meeting last month, but even some of those in favor said the proposed local diploma would be viewed as second-class.

Grasmick said then, and repeated yesterday, that she wasn't wedded to the idea but had floated it to "get us off dead center after too many years of talking about making the high school diploma mean something. I meant it as a launching point, and I expected other proposals to come forth. This is exactly what I wanted to happen."

The board vote last month authorized Grasmick's office to write the rules for a program linking high school graduation to the Maryland High School Assessments. Public hearings are expected next month, and a final board vote is scheduled for late spring. The program would become official with the Class of 2009 -- this year's seventh-graders -- making Maryland the 20th state with mandatory high school exit tests.

The superintendents' proposal, approved a week ago, was drafted by the nine Eastern Shore chiefs.

"We'd still have a measure of how well students do on each test," said Bonnie C. Ward of Kent County, this year's association president, "but asking that they achieve a composite score takes into account the fact that all humans have strengths and weaknesses. This gets us out of the cycle of taking tests year after year because they missed by one point."

Ward observed that many tests in education use composite scoring. Perhaps the most famous is the SAT, which assesses a student's combined mathematical and verbal abilities.

Carroll Superintendent Charles I. Ecker agreed with his colleagues on the differentiated diploma, but he said the composite score plan "needs more study and reflection. I'm concerned that people will view this as our not wanting to be accountable."

Sun staff writer Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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