Bridging the gap

November 01, 2007

Maryland's state school board has voted 8-4 to proceed with High School Assessments that will be required for the graduating Class of 2009. However, low passing rates in some districts, including Baltimore, have many educators and advocates rightly worried about the possibility of increasing the number of students who might have to delay graduation or who might drop out in frustration.

The board's acceptance of schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's so-called bridge plan proposal - a rigorous project as an alternative - shows a welcome recognition that there are some students who do not excel on standardized tests. But school districts must be mindful of the dissenters' concerns about whether enough timely supports can be put in place to give every student the best possible chance to graduate.

Raising standards often puts individual students in jeopardy, at least in the short run. Across the state, the pass rates among current 11th-graders for the required tests - in algebra, government, English and biology - range from 62 percent to 77 percent, a cause for some concern with about an 18-month deadline.

In Baltimore, where the pass rates are generally below 50 percent and the graduation rate is not quite 60 percent, schools CEO Andres Alonso has insisted - and logically so - that the status quo of not having tests tied to graduation is not working. Now he and other school officials - including those at the state level - who spoke out in favor of the tests and the alternative project must ensure that all students are given a bridge to somewhere, instead of a dead end.

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