High School Assessments
Prince George’s Business–Education Alliance Executive Director David Merkowitz testified at a hearing conducted by the Maryland State Board of Education on the state's High School Assessment (HSA) program on September 10, 2007.
The hearing, held at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, was one of five regional sessions mandated by the General Assembly for the Board to solicit public input on the HSAs. The Board is required to report on the hearings to the General Assembly before the opening of its next session in January.
Merkowitz testified on behalf of the Maryland Coalition for Excellent Schools, which is made up of organizations from around the state that advocate for education reform and adequate and equitable school funding.
Under current Board policy, students in the high school class of 2009 will be required to pass the HSAs to receive a diploma. To qualify, students must either achieve a passing score on all four tests — in English, algebra, government, and biology — or meet a standard minimum score on each test and a combined minimum.
Earlier this year, state legislators, alarmed at reports that thousands of students — including many African-American and Hispanic students, low–income students, and students with disabilities — have been failing the tests and are in danger of being denied diplomas, considered legislation that would have changed the HSAs from a “stand–alone,” high stakes requirement to one of several factors to be considered in determining whether students graduate. In the end, they told the Board to conduct the regional hearings, the results of which the General Assembly could consider next year before the requirement went into effect.
The circumstances surrounding the HSAs have become rife with confusion. During the 2007 legislative session, state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, the head of the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), proposed exempting certain groups of students, including those with developmental disabilities, from the requirement until 2012. The move was widely perceived as an attempt to derail efforts to legislate new graduation procedures. However, Grasmick has never presented that plan to the Board.
At a Board meeting in August, just before the start of the regional hearings, Grasmick outlined still another proposal, to allow some students who had failed the tests multiple times to participate in a “Bridge Plan for Academic Validation,” under which they would present portfolios of their work and prepare a project demonstrating knowledge equivalent to that required for the tests. However, Grasmick did not flesh out how the Bridge Plan would be conducted, and the Board took no action on the proposal.
In addition, current Board regulations require that alternative and comparable HSAs be available for certain groups of students who have difficulties with the regular tests, but neither has been fully developed or implemented by MSDE.
In a move that created even more uncertainty, MSDE in August reported the most recent HSA results, which claimed to show that 51,000 of the 55,000 students projected to graduate from the class of 2009 had passed the algebra test. However, the department provided no county–by–county breakdowns, claiming that it was unable to disaggregate the data, and left that job to individual school systems.
The Washington Post subsequently reported that statistics from 19 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions show that, in fact, far fewer students in the 2009 cohort had passed the algebra exam. In addition, MSDE’s projections assumed that at least 10,000 of the 65,000 students in the class of 2009 would drop out or otherwise leave the public school system before graduation.