Md. school board may adjust exit-test requirement for some

Delay likely to focus on special-education and immigrant students

March 01, 2007|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun Reporter

State school board members said yesterday they are determined to move ahead with plans to require high school students to pass exit exams to get a diploma, but indicated they may be willing to postpone the requirement for special-education students and those for whom English is a second language.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is expected to make a formal recommendation in August to delay the tests for those two groups as well as students with 504 plans -- students with minimum disabilities who are not in special education.

The changes are likely to affect tens of thousands of students who might not have been able to get a diploma. Only 36 percent of special-education students in the Class of 2009 passed the algebra test last year. Students also will have to pass exams in government, biology and English II.

Grasmick said it was unfair to hold the special-education students to the requirements as early as 2009 because many of them had been in segregated classrooms for much of their school careers and had not "been exposed to a regular curriculum."

"We are not recommending abandoning these tests," Grasmick said, "But as we look at all the components of this test, there will be adjustments."

In their comments at the meeting, state board members expressed strong support for the high-stakes tests but pointed out, as they have in the past, that they have the option of voting next year to drop the requirement if data show large numbers of students failing the tests.

Grasmick said she would review the issue at every board meeting at least through 2008.

Several school board members said students ought to be able to pass the tests, which are considered by experts to be at an eighth- or ninth-grade level. Students will not be prepared for college or careers if they cannot pass an algebra test that is considered partly pre-algebra, some members pointed out.

"We have set these tests at the lowest possible level," said school board member Calvin D. Disney. He said he hoped they would not postpone the tests for average students and that the delay for special-education students and others would not be too long.

Board member Dunbar Brooks said he has been criticized for supporting the tests because he is an African-American, and there is a fear that African-Americans who have a much lower pass rate on the tests will be prevented from getting a diploma.

"My retort was that I am a proud African-American who was well-educated in Baltimore City schools. Why would I expect any less from my children?" Brooks said. He said it would be racist to expect less.

State board member Karabelle A. L. Pizzigati said the state needs to speed up the process of getting test results to students and schools. Currently, students take the tests in May and get the results in August, complicating the schedules for students who fail tests and must take remedial classes.

State officials say they might need to make adjustments because they do not have enough data on pass rates to accurately predict how many students would be prevented from getting a diploma.

By next fall, said Gary Heath, head of testing for the state, many more students in the Class of 2009 will have taken the government, biology and English II tests, and he will be able to give the state board more accurate predictions.

About half of the states have decided to make passing high school tests a requirement of graduation. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires that states test students in English and math once in high school, and the results do not have to be linked to a diploma.

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