Dodging the Test

Monday, March 24, 2008

MARYLAND'S deadline tying high school assessments to graduation is approaching, and that's causing some to worry. There's nothing unusual about test anxiety. What's unbelievable is that there are some supposed grown-ups in the legislature who think it's okay to tell students having a hard time to, well, just forget it. Lawmakers should not gut a program that aims to make a high school diploma more than a piece of paper.

Bills are pending in the General Assembly that would either eliminate the tests or severely weaken them as requirements for graduation. One bill, for example, would give students credit for grades and for attendance. This modification would send a message that the state is not serious about its standards. Also, whom would it help, since a student with good attendance and good grades should have no problem passing a basic test? This is not the first time the high school assessments, enacted by the State Board of Education in 2000, have come under attack. But opposition is growing as the day of reckoning approaches, with the Class of 2009 being the first to have to pass exams in core subjects.

"If we allow this to affect even one class of students . . . then we as leaders are letting our kids down," Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George's) told The Post's Philip Rucker in support of his bills. Isn't it, though, letting kids down to give them a sham education? A diploma is of little use to a student who can't read or figure out a tip or complete a job application or pass an exam for a trade school. The purpose of the tests is to bring rigor and quality and real meaning to high school.

Maryland education officials already -- and we think unwisely -- compromised the policy by allowing a substitute for the tests. Students who fail will be given the option of completing a project. The worry that vast numbers of students are going to fail appears to be unfounded: Education officials estimate that 87 percent of Maryland students who have taken all four high school assessments have passed the requirement. Maryland lawmakers historically have left education policy to the state board. Should they break that tradition, we trust that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who does not support the measures, will use his authority to affirm the meaning of a high school diploma.


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