Monday, December 22, 2008

Practical Realities and the High School Assessments

Maryland Students will be able to graduate this year, even though some of them will not have passed the required high school assessments. The Baltimore Sun writes:

The state Board of Education's decision to let some students graduate in 2009 without passing the mandatory high school assessments tests is a bow to practical realities, but it shouldn't become the norm or weaken Maryland's commitment to higher standards.

This is the first academic year in which the tests are mandatory for graduation, and a relative handful of the state's 55,000 seniors are in danger of not getting their diplomas in June because they either haven't taken the tests or have failed in one or more subjects. The board's decision lets them apply for a waiver if they fulfill all the other requirements for graduation and can show they couldn't pass the tests for reasons beyond their control.

About 4,000 students potentially fall into that category. Some are students new to the system who are not native English speakers and haven't yet achieved enough proficiency in the language to take the courses or pass the test. Others are special education students whose programs aren't geared to the exams.
"Practical realities" should be read as code for "lacking backbone" among educational and policy leaders for backing down on the program they implemented to increase the standards and make the high school diploma in Maryland mean something.

A high school diploma is a path to a better standard of living and should not be awarded from simply showing up. I undertand that non-English speakers may need additional time or help to pass the courses, but that should be an incentive to keep them for another year and/or really help them. The state also runs into a definitional problem, i.e., what is the length of time for which a waiver could be granted? Is one year in the system enough time? Two years? Three years?

But you also run into something of an equal protection argument as well. Let's take two groups of students who, at least would be nominally permitted a "not enough time in the system" waiver. Immigrants and out-of-staters who move into the country. Let's take an immigrant from say Africa, who moves to Maryland as a junior in high school. They are a non-native English speaker and would need time to complete the necessary courses in order to pass the exam. Rather than keeping that student longer, the state grants a waiver for the graduation exams. Fine, if that is the policy. But what of someone whose parents are in the military and are stationed in Maryland (say at Ft. Meade) for that student's senior year. This student doesn't pass the exams, should they be granted a waiver as well? What about students who are native English speakers, say from Great Britain or Australia? Should they be granted a waiver as well?

The problem with the waiver (outside of special education waivers), what is a permissible waiver and what is not? Better to not grant waivers and require the passage of the exams to get the diploma.

The practical reality is more of a political failing and a desire not to face that failing reality. The concept of the high school assessments was that by the time they would be required to graduate, Maryland schools would have improved enough to make the passage a fairly easy exercise for nearly every student. The practial reality, though, is taht schools, particularly in the poorer, minority sections of Baltimore and Prince George's County, have not improved enough and the consequence is that most students there are not equipped to pass the exam. The granting of waivers under any circumstances is not a reflection of the conditions beyond the control of the student, but a means for the state and the public education system to overlook their own shortcomings and failings. If they grant a waiver of the exam requirement, then the public schools don't have to take responsibility to correct their failure to prepare a student adequately to take the exam. That is the practical ("political") reality here, an inability to actually face up to the systems many failings.


Daniel said...

What is interesting about this, is that Supt. Nancy Grasmick is for the waivers (to allow more graduates despite their test failures).

Didn't she want to take over 10-11 City schools because of their poor records??

What is she thinking now??

Matt Johnston said...

Grasmick is thinking she doesn't want to lose her job for failing to do it.

Ultimately, the success or failure of the HSA program falls on her shoulders and the schools inability to get students to pass these allegedly 10th grade level exams will be placed on her doorstep.

Grasmick is a victim of her own lengthy tenure. She cannot claim that a previous administration came up wit the idea nor can she say that she personally has not had time to make the necessary changes at the schools.

warpmine said...

What difference will it make? They all come out just a little dumber than the previous graduating class.

What they should be is tested for proficiency in understanding the Constitution and it's roll for defining government. Of course who is going t teach the subject? Anyone brainwashed by the NEA is surely going to instruct the pupils that the said document has a different meaning for all who read it. Screwed!

Duke hoops fan said...

I feel so bad for the non native English speaking illeg, er students. Hopefully we'll be able to send them to college free.