Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Testing concern spurs action from school board

Officials reach out to state lawmakers over alternatives to HSAs

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Prince George’s County school officials are seeking help from state legislators after learning testing alternatives could make it tougher for school systems to meet federal academic standards.

Starting this year, the Maryland school board agreed to allow students who fail state-mandated High School Assessments to be given an alternative project. However, as county officials recently learned, alternative test results would not count toward the school system’s Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement of federal standards.

A large number of HSA failures – even if students complete the alternative projects – could cause the school system to fall short of making AYP. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a school that continually fails to meet AYP can be taken over by the state.

Starting with the class of 2009, students must pass the HSAs or alternative projects to receive a diploma.

‘‘They’ve added the safety net but they’ve penalized us,” board vice-chairman Ron Watson said in reference to the HSA alternative plan.

At-large board member Donna Hathaway Beck agreed.

‘‘It’s an educational Catch-22,” she said at the Jan. 24 school board meeting in Upper Marlboro. ‘‘You really can’t win here.”

Prince George’s Superintendent John E. Deasy said the problem could be further exacerbated because students will have less incentive to pass the HSA knowing they can rely on taking the alternative.

‘‘We are very concerned about this,” Deasy said at the Jan. 24 school board meeting. ‘‘But it’s the law of the land ... and we support as many options as possible for youths to be successful.”

Del. Gerron Levi (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie, who has worked closely with school officials to formulate education-related legislation over the last year, said she would be ‘‘willing to look at anything the school system would propose” to diminish the impact of the state alternatives.

‘‘I understand [school officials’ concern] that it creates a disincentive to pass the HSAs,” Levi said. ‘‘I’m conflicted on how you balance those two goals. And now, it’s just a matter of properly balancing those two goals.”

Board member Pat J. Fletcher (Dist. 3) of Landover pointed out that the state legislature stepped in two years ago when Maryland Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick proposed the takeover of 11 Baltimore city schools that continually failed to meet federal standards. Grasmick’s plan was blocked by state legislation. Lawmakers even overrode a veto by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr.

‘‘We have made such outstanding progress lately,” Fletcher said, referring to 11 Prince George’s schools that exited ‘‘school improvement” status in 2007 by meeting AYP in consecutive years. ‘‘To me, this looks like a setup. ... We need to have a meeting of the minds and decide what’s best for our kids and our school system.”

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.