- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Back when the state of Maryland introduced the High School Assessments — a series of exams students were going to have to pass before they could graduate — there was much concern about what was called high-stakes testing.
The fear was that students with otherwise fine, or at least acceptable, academic records might be denied a diploma because they choked on a state test in algebra, biology, English or government.
Turns out there was nothing to worry about. In the last four years, since the tests were required for graduation, no student in St. Maryís County has ever been denied a diploma. In fact, in the entire state of Maryland, last spring just one student out of nearly 60,000 failed to graduate because of the HSAs.
Thatís because the students are permitted to take the tests multiple times to try to pass. If they canít pass all of the individual tests they can meet the requirements by earning a combined minimum score. And if that doesnít work they can do a special project under what is called the Bridge Plan for Academic Validation, to receive credit in the subjects whose tests they couldnít pass. That was the path 71 St. Maryís County high school seniors took last year.
Essentially, students have to not even attempt to meet the HSA requirements to actually fail to get a diploma. And just about the only students who donít make that effort have failed to meet other graduation requirements, such as passing the required number of courses to accumulate enough credits to graduate.
So if everybody graduates if they are otherwise qualified to do so, whatís the point of these tests? Well there isnít much of one anymore, or at least there isnít much point in pretending that these tests certify that Maryland high school graduates have mastered the material in core classes.
The only point left is the same as those in just about every other standardized test students take these days — to judge how well schools are teaching the material students should be learning at each grade level. Even that worthy goal can be eroded if teachers spend time teaching to the test instead of just teaching the material.
This is not to advocate that students trying to graduate stop being given second, third, fourth chances and more and start being heavily penalized for failing to do well on one test after 13 years of school. That was never a good idea and parents were never going to stand for it, which is why the High School Assessments were modified before they ever had real bite.
But letís not pretend the HSAs are something they are not. They are not some stamp of guarantee that goes along with a diploma. Perhaps some students somewhere do learn concepts of algebra or biology through a bridge project that they couldnít grasp otherwise. But if not, Maryland schools are still just pushing students out the door and pretending that all graduates, without exception, have proven they have mastered a rigorous academic program.