WASHINGTON – Local school superintendents have voted overwhelmingly to oppose the Maryland State Board of Education’s proposed two-tier diploma system for students who fail a planned high school exit examination.
The superintendents voted instead to recommend that the state stay with just one diploma that students could earn if they got a passing composite grade on all four of the exit exams. Under the state board plan, a student who failed any one of the four proposed tests would get a “local” diploma instead of a state diploma.
The Jan. 9 vote by the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland is not binding, but it is likely to affect state board members this month as they begin refining the plan for making the exams a graduation requirement. The state board voted in December to move ahead with such exams, which could be required for the class of 2009.
“I think (the vote) will have significant weight with state board,” said James Lupis, the executive director of the superintendents association.
“I think it’s significant that the superintendents believe overwhelmingly that these are the things that need to be considered,” Lupis said. “We have so many different types of school systems . . . but all the superintendents believe that this will benefit their children.”
State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick this week told reporters that she, too, liked the idea of a single diploma, to avoid the appearance of “a substandard diploma.”
“It is the one clash point in all of our discussions,” Grasmick said Wednesday. “I personally don’t like it either.”
But she said the local diploma was meant to be a “catalyst for discussion” and not a final proposal.
The superintendents also backed the use of composite scores for students who did not pass all four exams. Under that system, a student who passed the English, algebra and biology exams with high scores, but failed the government exam, could still graduate if his or her composite score was high enough.
Despite their support, the superintendents said the concept still needs further study to work out the details.
“We endorse the concept of using the composite score as an alternative to passing all four tests, but further statistical study needs to occur to determine how that might work,” said Cecil County Superintendent Carl Roberts.
The Maryland State Board of Education is scheduled to unveil a new proposal for the assessment exams in February, said Education Department spokesman Bill Reinhard.
But some groups still oppose the exit exams completely.
In Annapolis, Montgomery County Democratic Delegates Michael Gordon and Nancy King introduced legislation Wednesday that would prevent the state board from requiring any sort of exam for high school graduation.
The Maryland State Teachers Association also opposes what association President Patricia Foerster calls “high-stakes testing,” because it can inhibit classroom learning.
“We worry about how narrow the curriculum can become,” said Foerster, noting that in such a high-stakes situation “the first and foremost thing you want to do is make sure the students pass that test.”
If the state insists on such a test, Foerster said she wants to see it as a part of the classroom curriculum, not a separate component students take after the class.
“In my imagination, I’d like to see some kind of combination between state and local assessment that would funnel through the grading process,” she said. “Students need to be accountable one way or the other . . . but I believe there are more important things going on in the classroom.”
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