- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

BALTIMORE — Even as he detailed his school system’s efforts to help students prepare for and pass the High School Assessments, Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry D. Weast warned against a “one-size-fit-all” test that he said would be too difficult for some students and insufficiently challenging for many others.

Mr. Weast’s comments were part of a wide-ranging discussion at yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting about the effectiveness of the standardized tests. Students will be required to pass tests in four subjects — English, algebra, biology and government — in order to graduate starting in 2009.

But that policy still could change. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, a believer in the tests, has told the board that she would recommend delaying the graduation requirement for special-education students and for those with limited English proficiency.

Mrs. Grasmick may recommend further changes to the testing program after the State Department of Education analyzes data from this year’s tests, which students will take next month. Results are expected to be released in August.

The board has indicated it will act on Mrs. Grasmick’s recommendations this year. But it has the power to make more drastic changes, and Mr. Weast said it will face troubling choices.

“It is so difficult to make one size fit all,” he said, using the example of a child who has been going to school in Montgomery County only for a couple of years and doesn’t speak much English. “We’ve got to figure out how much you can really accelerate that child.”

At the same time, Mr. Weast said, the test establishes a standard of mediocrity.

“It is hard for me to sell an exam to a child, that we put so much energy behind, that won’t get them in as a fully qualified student at a community college,” Mr. Weast said.

After the meeting, Mrs. Grasmick disputed Mr. Weast’s characterization of the tests, saying there were plenty of options for those who breeze through the state tests, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs.

“We don’t think it is a one size fits all,” she said. “I want to raise the standard, but we’ve got to accomplish the floor first. We should expect every student to accomplish the floor.”

Mr. Weast and Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston detailed their school systems’ efforts to work closely with students who have trouble passing the tests. Mrs. Grasmick said she was pleased to hear that students were getting customized instructional programs to help them get over the hump.

“Frankly, without the High School Assessments, I don’t think a lot of this would have happened,” she said. “It’s been a catalyst for it happening.”

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