Group Calls Diploma Tests Too Easy

Exam Questions at Eighth-Grade Level

The English and math tests that all Maryland high school students will one day have to pass before receiving a diploma do not reflect what students should have learned by graduation, according to a new national study. The nonprofit group Achieve Inc. found that the math exams for Maryland and five other states are equivalent to what students worldwide learn in seventh or eighth grade. The English exams match a version of the ACT, a standardized test used in college admissions, that is typically given to eighth- and ninth-graders.

The exams, according to the study, are not "overly demanding." Scores on the exams will not count toward graduation in Maryland until the class of 2009, today's seventh-graders.

Regional Homeless Count Up Again

Number Increases for Fourth Year

The number of homeless people in the Washington area rose for a fourth straight year, but many of them are now finding their way to programs that can help address their problems, according to the results of an annual count.

The Jan. 21 survey counted 14,537 homeless men, women and children. The tally includes 11,386 people considered "literally homeless" -- living outdoors, in transitional programs or shelters. An additional 3,151 were considered "permanently supported homeless" -- depending upon homeless services but in a stable setting.

Group to Review State Financial Aid

Task Force to Report on Affordable Education

The University System of Maryland has formed a task force to examine financial aid policies at its 11 degree-granting campuses, with an eye toward making education more affordable for its neediest students.

State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) will lead the 17-member task force, which will submit a report this fall. System officials have increased tuition rates sharply in the past two years after a series of budget cuts.

Metro to Vote on Fares, Fee Increases

Changes Would Take Effect June 27

Metro's budget committee endorsed a plan to raise fares and fees at the end of the month and open the rail system a half-hour earlier on weekdays, at 5 a.m. The committee agreed to raise the minimum subway fare by 15 cents, to $1.35, and the local bus fare by a nickel, to $1.25. The weekly bus pass would remain unchanged at $11. The maximum peak rail fare would rise 30 cents, to $3.90, and daily parking fees would increase by 75 cents. Monthly reserved parking would rise $10, to $45. The full Metro board is to vote Thursday on the increases, which would take effect June 27.

Across the Region

New School Superintendents; Rockfish Rules

* In a departure from its plan to conduct a national search, the Howard County school board said it wants to offer a four-year contract to Interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

* Prince George's County officials announced that classrooms in 14 schools have been outfitted with air conditioning since last year; an additional 37 schools will receive units by September 2005.

* The Frederick County school board named Linda Burgee interim superintendent, replacing Jack D. Dale, who will depart July 1 to become Fairfax County superintendent. Burgee, 49, is one of two assistant superintendents with the school system.

* The Maryland Department of the Environment issued guidelines for the consumption of rockfish from the Chesapeake Bay, saying that men can eat two meals a month -- and women and children one meal a month -- without increasing their risk of cancer.

* Federal officials gave permission for Virginia to begin engineering work on the $1.5 billion plan to extend Metro to Tysons Corner and Reston, a significant step in the long-discussed project. No construction funds have been approved.

Cosmic sight: MJ Hall, left, Smithsonian curator Ronald Brashear and Nancy Gwinn watch from the roof of the American History museum as Venus crosses the face of the sun.