School chiefs back required test

State board urged to maintain link between assessments, graduation

October 31, 2007|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun reporter

The leaders of four school systems told the state school board yesterday to hold firm in its plan to require students in the class of 2009 to pass the High School Assessments, but also to give those who fail the option of doing a project instead.

With 3,700 students in Baltimore and 1,700 students in Prince George's County still needing to pass at least one high school test before graduation, the leaders in those districts said they have some of the greatest challenges.

But when they were asked by a board member whether superintendents would like to take away the graduation requirement, their response was consistent.

"Not having them tied [to graduation] is the status quo, and the status quo isn't working for Baltimore City," said Andres Alonso, the city schools' chief executive officer.

And Cecil County's superintendent agreed. "If they can't be tied to graduation, we don't need them," said Carl Roberts. He said students would not take the tests seriously if they had no consequence.

The superintendents said the tests have provided a strong incentive for teachers and students. The tests, they said, have meant some school districts are replacing easy classes, such as consumer math and "baby algebra," with harder courses.

"I think it is a matter of what you stand for," said Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

All but Montgomery County's superintendent have supported making passing the exams in algebra, English, American government and biology a requirement for graduation, beginning in 2009. But opposition has grown across the state this year as the deadline nears and large percentages of students, particularly minorities, special-education students and those who are learning English, have failed.

The board is expected to debate the issue today and will take a final vote in the afternoon or later this month.

Several school board members asked questions yesterday that indicated they were uncomfortable with the high level of failures among some groups of students.

School board member Mary Kay Finan questioned whether there is time to give the Class of 2009 opportunities for the project option or a comparable test for special-education students when neither has been developed.

She noted that an estimated 15,000 juniors in the state have not taken the biology test.

State school officials provided more details on how the alternative project that state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick introduced in September might work.

After consulting a committee of 15 high school principals throughout the state, staff members at the State Department of Education put together the outline of what the project would look like.

Only students who had passed the four classes, had acceptable attendance, had failed one or more tests twice and had gotten some academic help would be eligible. In addition, students had to have failed a test by no more than 100 points out of about 400.

A project could be done any time during high school, not just during the senior year, as long as the student had failed. Students would decide what to do based on a guideline set by the state.

The state also committed to produce samples for students and teachers to see and to train staff members in school systems on how the projects should be done. A student project probably would be managed by a school staff member, but it would be scored by a districtwide grading team that would include a representative from the state.

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