BALTIMORE – Calling it a work in progress, the Maryland State Board of Education Wednesday approved a design and tentative calendar for high school competency testing.
The board recommended, among other things, that the tests be:
* focused on individual rather then group performance.
* required for a high school diploma.
* designed to allow scoring on different ability levels.
* implemented for the graduating class of 2004 — today’s 5th graders.
“The board’s work today lays the foundation for a solid and well-designed testing program, but this vote doesn’t precisely define the details of the program — the board set the outside parameters today but not the final blueprint,” said Nancy Grasmick, state school superintendent.
But Maryland PTA President Carmela Veit said she feels “it is wrong…to continue the implementation of the high school tests as a graduation requirement when so many concerns raised by parents remain unanswered.”
Her concerns include teacher training, funding and how remediation and tutorial programs will be handled.
The next step is for the College Board and the Education Testing Service to design the tests. The board is a national nonprofit organization that pushes educational excellence, while ETS is a private nonprofit company specializing in testing. It developed, among other things, the SAT.
Students could be required to pass 10 tests associated with specific courses. Tests would be flexible enough to recognize that school systems organize courses differently.
Tests could be given twice a year to accommodate semester schedules and to give students make-up opportunities, the board decided.
The high school assessment, as the tests are called, 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.
Since July 1995, the high school assessment program has been the focus of a 35-member task force and the subject of dozens of meetings to gather feedback statewide. Grasmick said that 3,700 educators, elected officials, parents, students and business people participated in more then 200 meetings in preparation for the board’s decision.
Even so, Veit, the PTA president, said that the board has “fallen woefully short in the public engagement of this issue.”
Grasmick, in an interview after the board meeting, said she plans to appoint a group to advise her, to ensure appropriate communication. In addition, she said, open forums will be held to allow concerned citizens to voice their opinions.
“Today is the beginning of a new round of dialogue with the public and with educators on the high school assessments,” Grasmick said.
Tiffany Butcher of Potomac, the board’s student member, said, “students realize that for our future we need new and better methods” including the assessments.
Board President Christopher Cross made reference to as much in his opening statement, pointing to a recent Public Agenda Foundation finding that 75 percent of high school students believe students should not graduate unless they have demonstrated they have learned material. “I will not compromise on … the creation of an assessment program that holds students accountable for their own learning and gives meaning to a Maryland high school diploma,” Cross concluded. -30-