Washington County School Board Vice President W. Edward Forrest said the state's High School Assessment tests are an "incredible waste of resources."
Forrest's comments came Tuesday after school system officials presented data from last year's assessment tests, including the fact that no student in the county or state failed to graduate last school year because of the High School Assessment graduation requirement alone.
That, combined with the variety of ways or, as Forrest called them, "loopholes," that students can meet the HSA graduation requirement, led Forrest to declare the tests a waste of teachers' and staff's time.
After the meeting, Forrest said that when the HSAs were first implemented, students had to pass each individual test — 10th grade English, algebra, biology and government — to meet the graduation requirement.
But a variety of alternative methods have been added over the years, including earning a combined score of 1,602, completing bridge projects instead of passing the tests and receiving waivers, Forrest said.
"I want all kids to graduate, but I want them to graduate with a diploma that has value," Forrest said after Tuesday afternoon's school board meeting at the Central Office in Hagerstown.
The HSAs are taken as a way to hold schools and school systems accountable under the George W. Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act.
The federal act calls for schools, and various subgroup populations at schools, to meet higher proficiency standards each year through the 2013-14 school year, when the goal is 100 percent proficiency for all schools and subgroups. That means every student who takes the tests would have to score at or above the proficiency level and must have been in the school for a certain period of time.
For high schools, the accountability measures from HSAs are the English and algebra tests, and the schools' graduation rates.
Interim State Schools Superintendent Bernard Sadusky has said he expects the state to apply for a waiver for Maryland schools, local school system officials said.
What that waiver will look like is not known, but school system officials expect students will still have to take the assessment tests.
A waiver would not reduce accountability or go back on the school system's expectation that students should achieve at high levels, Assistant Superintendent Donna Hanlin said.
Abdul Latif, the board's student representative, said the HSA test has already been made "dumber," noting that an essay section was eliminated.
Also, starting with the Class of 2012, students no longer need to take the government HSA test to graduate. That test will no longer be administered.
One thing No Child Left Behind has done is focus resources on the neediest students, Forrest said.
Forrest said he was concerned that whatever the waiver version of the HSAs looks like, it might still contain loopholes to get around the graduation requirement.
South Hagerstown High School was the school system's only high school to not meet "adequate yearly progress" last school year. With an 80.31 graduation rate in 2010, South High missed the HSA target of 81.5 percent, according to the Maryland State Department of Education's website at www.mdreportcard.org.
Because the federal government is requiring all states to measure graduation rates the same way, Maryland has changed how it calculates graduation rates.
Instead of using the previous rate, graduation rates are now determined using a four-year cohort and lag behind a year.
The new formula, also referred to as the on-time graduation rate, is influenced negatively by students who take more than four years to graduate, by dropouts, and by some special-education students who are not seeking diplomas, school system officials said.
Those factors could be influencing South High's graduation rate, officials said.
The school's mobility rate of 23.9 percent also could be a factor, school system officials said. Mobility refers to students who move in and out of the school during their high school tenure, said Clyde Harrell, director for curriculum and instruction.
However, using the old graduation rate formula, South High's graduation rate still dropped significantly from 89.42 percent in 2010 to 82.09 percent in 2011, according to www.mdreportcard.org.
With the high school data in, the school system's overall rating is "not in improvement," which is an awkward phrase for a good rating.
For a school system to be deemed in need of improvement, the school system would have to miss adequate yearly progress in the same area, such as math, at all three levels — elementary, middle and high — for two consecutive years, Hanlin said.
When the school system is judged, the data considered is grouped in three bands — elementary, middle and high schools.
Washington County Public Schools did not meet its elementary reading and math targets — for the percentage of students in certain subgroups who scored at least proficient — for black or African American students, special- education students and students who receive free or reduced-price meals, according to www.mdreportcard.org.
The school system did not meet its middle school reading targets for special education and limited-English- proficiency students. It did not meet its middle school math targets for special-education students and students who receive free or reduced-price meals.
The school system met all of its high school targets.