High School Students Get Test Alternative

BERLIN – Maryland high school students who repeatedly fail the high school assessment (HSA) tests will have the option of completing a senior project, the Maryland State Board of Education decided Wednesday.

The board voted 8-4 on Oct. 31 to approve the test alternative, which will only be available to students who fail to pass an HSA test in two tries, after remedial help.

“It is never easy to raise standards, but the state board has made a courageous decision,” said Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick. “Our students will rise to the occasion.”

Beginning with the graduating class of 2009, all Maryland high school students must pass the four HSA end-of-course exams, in English, biology, algebra and data analysis and government to graduate.           

Critics have called the Bridge plan a lesser diploma, but an alternative to passing the HSA tests seems to be needed. Nearly a third of the state’s class of 2009 has not passed all four tests.

Grasmick proposed the amendment to the original HSA plan in August after realizing test data shows that some students had repeated difficulty with the tests.

The Bridge Plan for Academic Validation will allow students to complete their HSA requirements with a subject-specific project on the area or areas deficient.

Worcester’s high school students have done well on the HSA tests, but some students are not good test-takers, and might need some other way to demonstrate their mastery of a subject, Worcester County Superintendent of School Dr. Jon Andes has said.

Students have the opportunity to take the exam five times per year and those who need help get assistance to prepare for the test. That’s been helping, one school official said.

“We’re finding we get success with having the kids retake the test with intervention,” said Cindy Walter, test coordinator at Stephen Decatur High School.          

Each school system will develop a Bridge project approach, but the state will assess the projects for difficulty and compliance with the state goals.

“The students would need to complete the module, to demonstrate their knowledge in the content area,” said Andes. “The Bridge plan will be very rigorous and require additional time on the part of the student and staff.”

Andes could not estimate how many local students might take advantage of the Bridge Plan.

“Our hope is that every student will pass the tests,” Andes said.