Grasmick set to propose exit-test delay for some

February 28, 2007|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun Reporter

Maryland schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick is expected to propose delaying required high school exit exams for students in special education and those whose first language is not English.

In a memorandum to local school officials, Grasmick said she would make the proposal at a state school board meeting this morning during a discussion of the high school tests that, under current rules, are to be required as a condition of graduation beginning in 2009.

The proposal is the first time that the state appears to be backing away from the high-stakes test in the face of increasing criticism of the High School Assessments.

Currently, all students beginning with the Class of 2009 will have to pass the tests in algebra, English II, American government and biology to receive a high school diploma.

Grasmick said she wanted to offer flexibility to special-education students and those who speak English as a second language because they appeared to be the groups most at risk of not passing the tests.

Until two weeks ago, Grasmick and the state board appeared to be unwavering in their determination to implement the test as a means of raising academic standards across the state.

The only hesitation appeared to be in making sure that all students had access to remedial classes in case they failed the tests. The state is working on developing alternative tests for some special-education students as well as an alternative for a small number of students who have test anxiety.

The need for a final authorizing vote by the state board has always been a part of state regulations, but all parents, teachers and administrators have been given the message that the Class of 2009 must pass these tests with no exceptions.

Then, at a legislative hearing in mid-February, Grasmick said the testing requirement was "not carved in stone" and that the school board still could vote to change the policy. The tests have been given for many years, but the first class that would have to pass them to receive a diploma are today's 10th-graders.

The memo also said that the superintendent would delay the test for students with so-called 504 plans. Those students have learning disabilities that are not severe enough to require a special-education designation, but require that they receive extra time on tests and other accommodations.

Criticism has grown as students faced the prospect of hours of extra work to pass the tests. Teachers and superintendents have worried that thousands of students would not graduate from high school in 2009, and that many others, believing that they could never pass the tests, would drop out of school.

Statewide, the pass rate last year was 67 percent for algebra, 68 percent for biology and 74 percent for government, rates that state officials lauded. They said they believed that most students who failed would pass the tests the second time around.

And they said school systems were offering remedial classes at school and online.

The issue is particularly sensitive for Baltimore City and Prince George's County, which have some of the lowest pass rates on the exams. For instance, only half of African-American students passed the algebra test.

But the tests have been hailed as a way to improve education and to require some accountability in the state's high schools. The tests were designed to ensure that the high school diploma was meaningful.

Business leaders have complained that graduates often can't read, write and do math at a proficient level. And high percentages of students need remediation when they get to community colleges.

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