State plans Web classes to help gain diplomas

October 25, 2006|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun Reporter

Hoping to reduce the number of seniors who might be denied high school diplomas in 2009, Maryland is offering online classes to students who are in danger of failing their high school exit exams.

The online classes are among several steps the state is taking to give students opportunities to pass the new exams. The Maryland State Board of Education is being given updates on those efforts this week.

Like SAT prep classes that have been available online for several years, the new High School Assessment classes will be offered in high schools around the state to any student who has failed or needs extra help to take the tests.

Algebra and American government are already available to students. Biology will begin this winter and English II will start next fall, said Liz Glowa, state coordinator of virtual learning opportunities.

Beginning with the class of 2009, students will have to pass the four High School Assessments during the course of their high school career in order to get a diploma. The HSAs are designed to be taken at the end of the course. If students fail, they can retake the test as many times as they like.

Most states with high school exit exams offer remedial classes, said Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy. But most of those classes are done with paper and pencil. Jennings said he has not heard of another jurisdiction looking at an online class.

"It sounds pretty unique to me," said Heidi Glidden, assistant director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers.

Jennings and Glidden said remedial help is necessary, although the idea of taking a remedial class in high school just to pass a test has received some criticism around the country. Teachers are questioning "whether there is a misunderstanding of what education is," said Jennings.

Across the country, about 70 percent of students pass their exit exams after they take the remedial classes, according to a Center on Education Policy report.

Maryland's online courses can be used by students who have failed the exams and those who are struggling, Glowa said.

Teachers who have a group of students - such as those who aren't fluent in English or are in special education - could stand before the class and teach the material, incorporating class discussions. Then other parts of the course would be done online.

Those high-schoolers who have failed a test would do most of the course on a computer in a classroom with a teacher present who could help answer individual questions from students.

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liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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