Lost amidst all the hoopla of this week’s election was a decision by the state Board of Education last week to keep to its word that current high school seniors need to pass a series of standardized tests to get their diplomas next spring.
A few years ago, Maryland made national news when it announced beginning with the Class of 2009 high school seniors will need to pass standardized tests in algebra, English, American government and biology to graduate. It was praised by some for making students, and teachers, accountable and blasted by others for increasing the importance of tests at a time when students are already worrying about college admission scores.
What was not clear was whether this was a black-and-white issue. If you fail any or all of these tests, you do not graduate. Was it really that simplistic? Like most things, there’s some gray in there. For those bad test takers, there are other options to ensure they get their diplomas. There are four ways a student can meet the new graduation requirements – pass each of the four High School Assessment (HSA) tests; achieve a cumulative minimum score, meaning a student could fail two tests and make up for that shortcoming with stronger scores on other tests; complete a Bridge Plan for Academic Validation, which allows a student to undertake special projects if they have taken the core subject test twice and not met the passing score; or earn a passing score on alternative assessment such as the Advanced Placement exam.
The end result here is there’s no excuse for these students not graduating so long as they are willing to work, and we were glad to see the state school board did not roll over and go against its plans. The state provided the Bridge Plan alternative this year to help the poor test-takers and that’s going far enough. That’s a reasonable opportunity to make the grade.
In Worcester, HSA results indicate 90 percent of the county’s seniors have met the state’s graduation requirement (83 percent statewide). Forty-six students are ineligible for graduation at this point, but school officials say they are working diligently in after-school academies and 37 are on the Bridge Plan route because they have struggled with passing the core subjects exams.
For years, there has been heated debate in the education field regarding testing. We think this intense focus on testing in the classroom is unfortunate, but the increased emphasis is here to stay and Maryland believes it’s the only way to ensure schools are accountable for student achievement. Delaying this graduation requirement would have sent a mixed message to all involved and shown the state was not serious about seeing improvement. At least the approach and philosophy can now be called consistent.