High School Assessements Gutted As Politicians Run for Cover

High School Assessments, the tests that all members of the class of 2009 must pass in order to get a diploma, will not be as tough as the original plan once was, in essence, they have become a joke.

I support the idea of the HSA’s because I think students need to demonstrate a mastery of certain basic subjects in order to receive a diploma, which is, after all a certificate of achievement and a shortcut that tells employers and the world that the holder of the diploma has met certain educational minimums. But, what bothers me most is that in an age where legislators and policy leaders what to appear tough on education standards, these leaders lack the political courage to stand by their decisions.

HSAs cover four basic areas of subject matter, English (at the 10th grade level), algebra, American Government and biology. These exams can be taken at the end of the designated courses, and students can retake the exams in order to pass. After a failure, students can access tutoring and other help to get them over the hurdle. Well, now that hurdle is pretty low.

High school students who have failed one or more of the tests will have two new opportunities to get their diplomas without passing all four of the tests.

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One option will be to complete a project designed by the state Department of Education that will earn students points that can be used to make up the difference in their failing grades on the tests.

An alternative will be to achieve a combined score of 1,602 on the four tests. Passing scores now range from 394 in government to 412 in algebra. So a student’s strength in one academic area could balance out a weakness in another when added together.

State officials estimate that about 2,000 to 3,000 students will do the alternative projects. Another 2 percent to 3 percent of failing students – usually those who barely missed passing – will be able to get a diploma because of the combined score.

The State Board of Education voted 8-4 yesterday to allow the alternative options and all three of Governor O’Malley’s appointees to the board sought to have the exam requirement delayed and abolished for the class of 2009–in essence giving a free pass to students.

But wait, it is not the students who are the only ones getting a free pass, but the schools and school systems that are consistently failing to prepare students for the exams by having rigorous course requirements and quality teaching. As Board President Dunbar Brooks pointed out:

“For the past 50 years, no one has had to pay for the abysmal academic achievement of African-American and poor children,” he said. “No one has had to pay the consequences, and nothing has changed.”

He said it was up to the state board to institute standards because local school boards had failed to provide an adequate education for all students.

The higher failure rates on the tests among blacks in the suburbs have focused attention on the gap in achievement between African-Americans and white students.

“If we throw this out, we will send the message that the state board doesn’t care,” he said.

Once again decisions are being made the adults in the education system without regard to the children. Oh, the rhetoric is about kids and their graduation rates and self-esteem, but in reality it is the politicians and the school boards that are looking to avoid embarrassment over not doing their job.

When the HSAs were mandated, everyone hailed them as being tough on education and everyone patted themselves on the back for efforts to improve education, but when the bill came due, everyone is running for cover. The reason is simple, while implementing a standard, almost nothing was done from a policy level to make the necessary changes to education programs, personnel and curricula that would make sure students could meet the necessary standards, particularly in poor, urban and minority communities.

Passing a standard is easy, making sure that the adults in the education system live up to the standard is hard. Now that the policy is coming due, policymakers are running for cover. But I wonder if the invective that is being leveled about the failure of many poor and minority students to pass the HSAs are about the exam or about the poor efforts of educators to prepare the students for the exams.

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