Put to a Test

Monday, October 27, 2008

AS HEAD of Baltimore City's troubled public schools, Andres Alonso will have the hardest time of any of his state counterparts in getting students to pass new tests needed for graduation. But he doesn't flinch in his support of the assessments: "The notion that it is worse to hold them back rather than pushing them through unprepared is criminal." Amen, Mr. Alonso, and let's hope your words shame those who would retreat from the tests.

The Maryland State Board of Education is set to discuss the High School Assessments at its monthly meeting tomorrow. According to the Baltimore Sun, there will be an effort led by board member Blair Ewing of Montgomery County to delay the requirement that makes the tests a condition for graduation. The board enacted the assessments in 2000, but the Class of 2009 is the first to face the requirement.

Mr. Ewing stresses that he merely wants to postpone the graduation standard, not eliminate it. He told the Sun that he doesn't believe that all students have been exposed to teaching that prepares them to pass the tests. No doubt he is right, but, as Mr. Alonso so eloquently argued, why is it right to pass these students on with the facade of having been educated? A high school diploma doesn't do much good to the young man or woman who can't read, can't do math or doesn't have the skills to get a good job.

Schools have known for years that the tests would be a requirement for graduation in the spring, so it is hard to imagine what purpose is served by a year's delay. Local school officials report problems with designing the senior projects that the state approved last year as a substitute for some students who fail the tests. But the adoption of the so-called bridge projects already compromised the principle of assessments. To use them as a reason to further undercut the tests would send the message that Maryland was never really serious about tightening graduation standards.

Efforts to delay, or even scuttle, the tests are not surprising. Other states that imposed them also experienced opposition from those claiming to have the interests of students in mind. It's particularly offensive when students who are disadvantaged, minority or learning English as a second language are cited as a reason for why the tests are unfair -- as if it is too much to expect these students to earn diplomas. Instead of spending time trying to delay the tests, schools should be trying to get students ready.

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