BALTIMORE – The high school class of 2004 — today’s fifth graders — will be the first students to complete Maryland’s high school assessment, state education officials say.
The Maryland State Board of Education Tuesday began to consider four possible designs for the planned tests, but members warned that given some qualms — among the public and among educators — they would move slowly.
“The complexity and volume of decisions that must be made on these questions and others … demand that we proceed with caution and common sense,” said State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick. “The intent of the board and of the department is to create assessments that are fair, challenging and meaningful for every high school student in Maryland.”
The proposed high school assessment exams are a series of end-of-course tests covering the core learning areas of English, mathematics, science and social studies.
The assessment is an extension of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, given in grades 3, 5 and 8, which determines the performance levels of individual schools. However, the high school assessment will likely focus on individual, rather than group, student performance.
Since its inception in July 1995, the assessment program has been the focus of a 35-member task force and the subject of dozens of meetings to gather feedback statewide.
This week, the state board was asked to consider some of the issues arising from that process:
* Will passing the exams be a prerequisite for graduation?
* How many different tests will be developed?
* Will it be acceptable to have three annual tests administrated with make-up sessions for students who do not pass on the first attempt?
“These are among the most important and far-reaching deliberations and decisions this board will most likely ever make,” said Christopher Cross, the state board president.
Board members will attend work sessions between now and the end of February to further familiarize themselves with the different issues and tests.
The test options were designed with assistance from the College Board, a national nonprofit group that pushes education excellence, and Educational Testing Service, the private nonprofit corporation that developed the Scholastic Aptitude Test (or SAT). Officials from the two firms gave an overview of four diverse tests, from which the board is expected to choose one:
* “Portfolio Plus,” a year-long portfolio of student work combined with a two- to three-hour test. This option focuses on individual work.
* “Preparation Plus” draws upon a group activity followed by a two- to three-hour standardized test involving applications of academic skills to real-world situations. Educators could draw conclusions not just about students, but about the quality of instruction, from its results.
* “Combination” asks students during the two- to three-hour tests to use documents, laboratory results or other tools to answer a series of questions. It is similar to tests in the Advanced Placement Program, now used to determined whether a student may get college credit for high school work.
* “Limited Combination” would use challenging machine- scorable questions and answers in a two- three-hour test. This test has moderate scoring costs, moderate turnaround time but offers no support for education reform.
As high school assessment tests phase in, Maryland Functional Tests, which measures minimum competency among high school students in six subject areas, will phase out, the board said.
This is, of course, if things go as planned. If the board doesn’t act in February it could put the process off a whole year, Grasmick said. The next step is to choose a design option — a task now scheduled for the Feb. 25 and 26 board meeting. -30-