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Feb. 18, 2017

Changes coming to government and biology HSAs

by Amy Forsbacka, Editor-in-Chief
The Maryland State Department of Education is in the process of changing the government High School Assessment (HSA) test and plans to phase out the biology HSA test next year.

Because the Maryland State Department of Education is redoing the HSA test for government, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will have to change the curriculum for government classes. "We are changing our curriculum to make sure that it works, that it lines up with the new HSA," social studies resource teacher Mary Lou Thornton said.
Maryland is modifying the Government High School Assessment (HSA) to comply with the Common Core.  The Biology HSA will be replaced. Eleanor Cook
Maryland is modifying the Government High School Assessment (HSA) to comply with the Common Core. The Biology HSA will be replaced.

Alternatively, the Maryland State Department of Education is removing the biology HSA next year. "The bio HSA is being phased out, no one has to take it who is graduating next year," science resource teacher Summer Roark said. This year's seniors, however, must still take the test to graduate. "The seniors this year still have to sit through it but they don't have to get a passing score," Roark said. All the tests are changing due to Common Core, an education initiative that standardizes what students should know at the end of each grade. This is currently a federal mandate.

There will be a new test to replace the biology HSA that sets new requirements for students. "There's a new test being implemented in two years and because of that, and they're giving new stipulations for students to take science. They do not feel the HSA is satisfying that new requirement so they're phasing it out," Roark said. The new science test will cover more than the current test does. "It does cover physics, biology and chemistry so that is an immediate change, that students will have to have a little bit of all of those knowledges to get through that test, and the current HSA is only biology," Roark said.

The Maryland State Department of Education has not released the new tests to any teachers yet. "It's a closely held secret a lot of times what those questions look like," Thornton said.
The Maryland Department of Education is changing the HSAs. Catherine Horowitz
The Maryland Department of Education is changing the HSAs.

It is uncertain what impact the new tests will have on students. For government, the circumstances are different due to the higher requirements for reading comprehension skills. Thornton predicts the new HSA will be most challenging for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students. "It is always difficult for English language learners to be able to acquire the English skills necessary to pass this kind of test," Thornton said.

The social studies department is focusing on teaching ESOL students better English skills to prepare them for the new HSA. "We've realigned how we're going to teach the ESOL kids, what social studies classes they're going to take, and in what order, so that by the time they're seniors we hope that they'll have enough English language skills to deal with the test," Thornton said.

The Montgomery County Board of Education ruled in October to adopt these changes. Educators are preparing for implementation in the coming school year.



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