Md. asked to align school standards

Project calls to raise achievement so that all students are ready for college or work

April 20, 2007|By HALLIE C. FALQUET | HALLIE C. FALQUET,Capital News Service

More Maryland students will be better prepared for college and work if state officials follow through on their pledge to align high school graduation and college acceptance standards as part of the American Diploma Project.

The project's second annual progress report was released Wednesday by Achieve, the non-profit organization behind the initiative that focuses on raising academic standards nationwide.

States that sign up for the project will focus on aligning graduation standards to meet those expected by colleges; requiring students to complete a college- and work-ready curriculum; administering college readiness tests; the implementation of a data-tracking program to follow students from the pre-K level through graduation; and finally, instituting an accountability system to provide incentives for continued improvement.

"Many of us remember kids who dropped out of high school and did just fine," said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, "but that's not the case anymore."

In 2003, 67 percent of jobs required post-secondary education or training, the study said.

Baltimore's Patterson High School already doubles math periods and offers courses to facilitate the transition from middle to high school, a program highlighted by the report as a star example of how schools can provide support for those students struggling to meet rigorous demands that could become even tougher.

"There are a number of schools that are doing the same thing," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Board of Education. There are "some courses like algebra that are a gateway to future success."

Cohen sees some sort of advanced degree as a must for high school graduates, although he admits that what he's asking of states is "easy to describe, but difficult to do."

There are no penalties for not following Achieve's recommendations, but so far, 12 states say they've aligned with the plan, and 27 more, including Maryland, are in the process of doing so.

Maryland schools are working to "get an individual student I.D. so we can track students from the time they enter schools all the way through," Reinhard said.

The state also joined eight other states this month to become a part of the project's Secondary Math Partnership, which seeks to create a national assessment test for Algebra II slated for rollout in Maryland in 2009.

"By mastering Algebra II, students are prepared to enter credit-bearing college mathematics courses and by being clearer on those expectations for both teachers and students, we will help improve the success students will have at the post-secondary level," said Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's superintendent of schools, in a written statement.

While Maryland students continually rise above the national average in high school graduation rates as well as the percentage of students who start and finish college, the numbers are not where state leaders want them to be.

In 2004, 74 percent of Maryland students graduated from high school and 43 percent started college. However, only 19 percent earned a degree, according to the National Center for Higher Education Management.

Maryland students are not progressing as fast as the top five states in the nation, which increased the number of students receiving degrees by 9 percent over a decade, compared with Maryland's 6 percent.

While Cohen said he was satisfied with the progress states are making, the plan does have critics.

"I don't agree with the expression of satisfaction," said Chester Finn, former counselor to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. "I think this glass is no more than a quarter-full."

He argues that while the standards may look good on paper, what's important is the "traction" they carry, or rather what students actually learn under the standards proposed by Achieve.

Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers was also present during Cohen's announcement of the report's findings and agreed with Finn that the plan "is a gamble," but that Achieve's idea is the best in the face of "no good alternatives."

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