- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2008

BALTIMORE | A member of the Maryland State Board of Education plans to propose next week that the state delay its requirement that students pass standardized tests in order to graduate.

Such a move would derail state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick‘s decadelong push to beef up the standard for a high school diploma. The tests, known as High School Assessments (HSA), have been in place for several years, but this year’s seniors are the first class to be required to pass them.

It’s not clear whether there’s enough support on the board for a delay. Board member Blair G. Ewing said he thinks he has four votes on his side but isn’t sure whether he could sway a majority of the 12-person board.

Mr. Ewing said he doesn’t think that all students have received instruction that prepares them for the tests, and he’s concerned that simplified tests for special-education students were introduced only last year.

“The preparation for the HSA, particularly for special-education and English language learners and disadvantaged students, has not been adequate,” said Mr. Ewing, who said he has received numerous phone calls, e-mails and letters from parents and teachers. “It seems we have so much dismay that we ought to take our time and get it right.”

The school board in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction, Montgomery County, recently passed a resolution saying it thinks the requirements should be delayed at least a year. Montgomery superintendent Jerry D. Weast is expected to advocate for the delay at Tuesday’s board meeting.

But Mr. Weast appears to be alone among the state’s superintendents.

“The notion that it is worse to hold them back, rather than pushing them through unprepared, is criminal,” Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso said. There are more than 1,000 seniors in the city who are still trying to pass the tests or will need to complete projects, he said.

Many black education leaders also support tying the tests to graduation. Supporters of the tests say they set badly needed minimum standards and ensure that minorities and special-education students will get a better education.

The four exams cover algebra, English, biology and government and are given after students complete the necessary course work, often as early as ninth grade. Students who fail one or more tests can still earn a diploma if their combined score on all four equals the sum of the passing scores. Those who fail also have the option of completing projects that demonstrate their knowledge of the subjects.

The most recent test scores, released in August 2007, indicated that between 2,000 and 3,000 members of the class of 2009 were in danger of not graduating. But Mrs. Grasmick is confident that very few students will fail to graduate based on test performance alone.

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