- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — A state senator wants to minimize a policy requiring high school seniors to pass “exit exams” to graduate.

“Should this be the only requirement for graduation?” asked Sen. Gwendolyn Britt, a Prince George’s Democrat who is sponsoring a bill on the issue. Mrs. Britt said the exam should count as only 25 percent of the graduation requirement and that other achievements such as attendance, grades and community service should be included.

More than 20 other senators, including Sen. Donald F. Munson, Washington County Republican, are sponsoring similar legislation, which calls for a task force to study whether the graduation requirement should be modified or eliminated.

The lawmakers said they were concerned about the achievement gap for minorities, who score about 30 percent below average, and whether those who fail the tests would have alternatives to earn their diplomas.

About 25,000 sophomores, among the first class facing the mandatory exams in 2009, failed a preliminary test last spring.

Republicans in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly say students need to meet state standards, particularly as spending for public education increases.

“Nothing is wrong with demanding that [we] get a proven product,” said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed an additional $580 million for education in fiscal 2008 as part of the final installment of the Thornton Commission plan, which requires the state to phase in $1.3 billion in education funding.

In 2003, the Maryland State Board of Education established exit exams in four areas: algebra, biology, English and government. The tests also meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Educators in Virginia also are trying to develop their own state exam to replace a federal program that begins next year.

Maryland educators say they are preparing students for the exam and are confident all of them will pass, including the 25,000 who failed the preliminary test.

“It’s not any big surprise,” said Bill Rinehard, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education. “Now it’s here and now people are focusing some attention on it.”

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