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Task force might eye assessment test

April 02, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said she wants High School Assessments to remain a graduation requirement for students to ensure high standards.

That issue and others could be discussed by a statewide task force. Two bills before the Maryland General Assembly call for the creation of a task force on the policy and funding implications of requiring students to pass the exams in order to graduate.

If created, the task force would report its findings to the state department of education, the governor and the general assembly before Nov. 1. The Maryland Association of Boards of Education supports the creation of the task force.

Students who entered high school in 2005-06 and who are expected to graduate in 2009 are the first group of students who must take and pass the High School Assessments to receive a Maryland High School Diploma.

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Students are required to take exams in English, biology, algebra and government.

If created, the task force also would likely discuss requirements for special-education students and English language learners.

Washington County Public Schools staff said during a March business meeting that they favor keeping the assessment as a graduation requirement. Board members Ruth Anne Callaham and William Staley, and Board Vice President Wayne D. Ridenour said they did not favor hinging graduation on the results of the exams.

"The idea of testing is great," Staley said during the March 20 meeting. "But the idea that someone's graduation would depend on this, I'm opposed to that."

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said a letter from the board would be sent to Maryland Association of Boards of Education and to the Maryland State Department of Education indicating that the majority of board members favored keeping the graduation requirement.

Board Member W. Edward Forrest said he believed that public schools should not be "diploma mills."

Board Member Paul W. Bailey said the accountability the exams provide for students as a graduation requirement is important.

"I think it is very desirable," he said. "And I'm just hopeful that there is not an anomaly there somewhere where someone is ready to graduate with honors, but does not pass the HSA."

Several staff recommendations were to be included in that letter, including requests that student results be quickly communicated with local school systems, more detailed feedback on those results be given and that the tests be shortened.

"I believe that the diploma should guarantee that there is a fairly high level of knowledge ... a body of knowledge that students have mastered," Morgan said. "It's about standards. However, recognizing that there are students who have the knowledge, but aren't able to demonstrate it (on a test), the comp HSA would be reasonable for me."

The "comp" HSA option will be piloted in the upcoming school year and will be available to students who understand the content on the tests but have difficulty demonstrating their knowledge in tests, according to information presented to the Board of Education during the March 20 meeting.

Tiered diplomas and waiving the exam for special-education students also are being discussed, Morgan said. She said she would like to talk with a special-education advisory committee and other groups before offering an opinion on these options.

More than 13 percent of Washington County Public Schools' 21,057 students are students with disabilities, according to the school system's annual report.

Mike Markoe, acting assistant to the superintendent, said the options being discussed could ensure that a large number of students, especially those with disabilities, are not shut out from being successful on the exams.

He said that Washington County Public Schools continues to make progress with special-education students and needs to continue that success through continued interventions.

In 2006, 23.5 percent of special-education students passed the English high school assessment - a 9.3 percent increase from 2005, according to state data. Nearly 49 percent of special-education students passed the biology exam, and 45.3 percent passed the government assessment. Sixty percent of Washington County's special-education students passed the algebra assessment in 2006 - a 28.5 percent increase over 2005.

The majority of students across the state who need to pass the tests to graduate are doing so, according to a report to the board by Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Instruction Donna Hanlin.

"Now we're looking at those groups of students who will have difficulty passing the test," Morgan said.

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