Test waiver would aid graduation

Measure designed to help thousands receive diploma

December 18, 2008|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,liz.bowie@baltsun.com

The Maryland State Board of Education is expected to adopt an emergency regulation today to allow superintendents to waive passage of the high school assessment as a graduation requirement in certain circumstances.

The superintendents in each district would gain the power to rescue hundreds of students who would not graduate from high school in June because they have been unable to pass four subject exams or complete projects.

Some educators had raised concerns that whole groups of students in certain school systems had not taken government until their senior year and might not have enough time to take the test and get extra help if they failed. Others were concerned that special education students and recent immigrants would be unfairly denied a diploma.

"We have a lot of new immigrants who haven't been in the system. We have a lot of special education students who have been in more segregated settings and haven't been exposed to the regular curriculum," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

State board members appeared to support Grasmick's proposal for an appeal process, although at a meeting yesterday, they requested some small changes. Their intent is to give parents and guardians the greatest chance to state their cases in an appeal process that begins with the student's principal.

Board members Dunbar Brooks and Kate Walsh raised concerns that principals might not waive students who deserved it and asked for safeguards that another authority would consider their cases.

The board agreed that the local superintendent and the state superintendent would be given a list of all students who met a set of criteria for the waiver.

The process would begin in February when parents would be notified that their children have not met the graduation requirements. By May, the principals would give local superintendents a list of names of students who should receive the waiver. Shortly afterward, the local superintendent would make a decision. The student and their parents could appeal the decision to Grasmick.

The Class of 2009 is the first to have to pass the tests for graduation. There are concerns that thousands might be denied diplomas without the waiver, which would only apply to this year's seniors. To be eligible, a student would have to have fulfilled all other graduation requirements, have taken all four tests and failed one or more and have taken advantage of any remedial help that was offered.

By the end of last school year, about 83 percent of the Class of 2009 had met the requirements, but there were still at least 4,000 students who had not taken one or more of the tests. Many of the students who fit the category, school system officials said, were immigrants who had limited proficiency in the English language and were now taking English II. Some parents argued that if those students took the HSA in May and failed, they would not have time to get the remedial help that is promised all students.

About 17 percent of the class, or about 9, 000 students, hadn't met the requirement according to data released in October. Only 15 percent of immigrants who are learning English had passed. About half of special education students and about 70 percent of African-Americans statewide had passed.

The board voted in October to hold fast to a requirement that students to pass end-of-year exams in four courses taken during high school: American government, biology, 10th-grade English and Algebra I.

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by county at baltimoresun.com/hsa

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