Maryland School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick plans to announce today that graduation requirements tied to the state's high school exit exams will be delayed by two years for students in special education and limited English proficiency programs as well as for students with certain disabilities such as hearing or vision impairments.
The announcement, scheduled for a meeting of the State Board of Education in Baltimore today, will put off the requirement for thousands of students who the state said would have to pass four exams, in algebra, English, government and biology, known as the High School Assessments, to receive their high school diplomas. Students throughout the state school system take the exams, and although schools need to show yearly improvement in scores, passing the tests is not yet required to earn a diploma.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) confirmed the delay, as did a senior school official in Maryland who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not been made. A discussion of the HSA exams is on the agenda for today's Board of Education meeting. A spokesman for Grasmick said she would not address the tests until then.
"I think it makes a lot of sense," Pinsky said. "With those subgroups, they obviously have some learning difficulties that truly interfere."
The testing requirement, which is scheduled to go into effect with the Class of 2009, has attracted growing attention in this year's legislative session. State lawmakers have proposed bills to create a task force to examine the tests and to make the exams part of a weighted assessment, reducing their importance in receiving a diploma.
Pinsky, who is sponsoring the task force bill, speculated that Grasmick's move is a response to legislators' concerns.
"It shows a proactive stance on the part of the state board and superintendent, and I applaud it," he said.
Some opponents of the test say that as many as 25,000 students are at risk of failing at least one of the exams, but state officials say programs to improve performance and generally improve scores on tests mean only a handful of students will fail.
Many students having the most difficulty with the tests are in the groups affected by the delay. According to a state education Web site, there are more than 31,000 special-ed students in high schools; almost 6,500 with limited English proficiency; and nearly 5,000 who fall under Code 504, which includes many students with disabilities. However, not all of these students are in the Classes of 2009 and 2010, the groups affected by the change.
Grasmick left open the option of changing the requirement in testimony before the House of Delegates' Ways and Means Committee this month, saying they were not "set in stone." In an interview last week, she emphasized that although she believes in the test, she is open-minded about changing aspects.
"We don't want the message to be 'We're not going to do this.' We just want to find out how we are going to do it," Grasmick said.
Many educators and politicians have mixed feelings about the tests. They want to make high school diplomas more meaningful. But they do not believe in making 13 years of education ride on a set of four exams. Some parents groups strongly oppose the exams.
Sue Allison, director of Marylanders Against High Stakes Testing, said she will continue her opposition despite the delay, saying the requirement is still unfair to all students.
"Now, and in two years, and in four years, it's never going to be fair," Allison said.