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Proposal would ease graduation standards

April 08, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A state education proposal that would allow students to fail some High School Assessments but remain eligible for diplomas is drawing good reviews from Washington County school officials.

The proposal would loosen requirements of a plan drafted by the Maryland State Department of Education in December 2003 which would have required high school students to pass all four High School Assessments to graduate.

The assessments consist of tests in English 1, algebra/data analysis, government and biology.

Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said Wednesday that concerns from parents was a factor in coming up with the new proposal, which would affect freshmen entering high school in fall 2005 and graduating in 2009.

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The proposed change would require students either to pass each of the four assessments or receive at least a combined passing score when all four test results are tallied. Under the second option, students would be able to fail some of the assessments as long as they meet the combined passing score requirement.

Reinhard said a minimum failing score would be set for each assessment, meaning a student would not be permitted to score below that minimum and still receive a combined passing score.

"They couldn't get a zero," Reinhard said. "They'd have to show some level of competence."

The minimum failing score and the combined passing score have not been determined by the state.

The Department of Education announced the proposal Feb. 24.

Under the previous proposal, Reinhard said, parents feared their children would do well on three of the assessments, for example, but not receive a diploma because they performed poorly on the fourth.

"We think that we put (in) enough second, third, fourth, fifth chances that that shouldn't be much of a concern," Reinhard said of the new proposal.

If students fail the assessments, they would have up to three times a year to take them again, said Boyd Michael III, Washington County Public Schools' executive director of secondary education.

Michael said students would be given remedial courses each time they fail an assessment.

Also under the proposal, students would be able to substitute passing scores on other tests for the High School Assessments. The substitute tests may include Advanced Placement tests, the SAT II test or other state-approved tests, according to the Department of Education.

"I think that proposal is more acceptable to the population at large," school board Vice President Roxanne Ober said.

"I think it gives a little bit of flexibility to the requirements," school board President Edward Forrest said.

Forrest said his gut feeling was that a student who performed well on one assessment would probably receive passing scores on the others.

He said his concern was with the time frame in which the school system receives the results of the High School Assessments. Last year, students took the tests at the end of the school year and the results weren't in until a few months into the next school year, he said.

If a student fails an assessment, it would take several months before the school system found out the student needed additional help, Forrest said.

School board member Russell Williams said he needed more information on the proposal to decide whether he agrees with it.

The Department of Education has said the proposed requirements would raise standards.

"What we don't want to do anymore is have students receive their diplomas getting A's and B's and still not being able to do some of these basic skill areas," Reinhard said.

Community colleges have told state education officials that sometimes students who receive A's and B's in high school go on to college and need remedial courses in English and math.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said at Tuesday night's school board meeting that students should "have to pass a reasonably high bar to get a state diploma."

"I think it's important that the kids graduate with the skills they need to be successful," Forrest said.

The proposed regulations will be published in the Maryland Register as early as April 16, according to a written statement from the Department of Education. A public hearing before the Maryland State Board of Education probably will be scheduled for the May 25-26 state board meeting.

Final approval tentatively is scheduled at the state board meeting June 22-23, according to the statement.

In addition to passing the High School Assessments, students still would have to complete all credit and service-learning requirements, attend school for four years beyond eighth grade and complete local graduation requirements.

Ober said she didn't think all parents were aware of the state's proposal. She said Washington County Public Schools may have to hold a series of informational meetings on the topic.

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