A policy headed for disaster

Sept. 16, 2006, midnight | By Poorva Singal | 17 years, 7 months ago

So far, Maryland students have taken the High School Assessments (HSA) for Algebra, Biology, Government and English as a graduation requirement. But starting with students in the graduating class of 2009, simply taking these tests will no longer be an option; they will need to pass the exams in order to earn their diploma. After last spring's test administration, the U.S. Department of Education made the decision to allow Advanced Placement tests to be used as a substitute for the HSA so students would not have to be burdened with so much test taking. One flaw, however, mars the plan: students do not find out the results of their AP exams until after they would typically take the HSA in May.

At first glance, the benefits of the policy seem obvious. Students who can do well on the AP test, a college level exam, have no need to take the relatively easier HSA, a high school level test. Students taking an AP course are unlikely to fail the HSA, says Carol Blum, MCPS Director of High School Instruction and Achievement.

It would be a big risk though, according to Carlos Martinez, Testing Supervisor for the Department of Shared Accountability, to wait until July for the AP results. After all, this time the students' graduations would be dependent on their scores. Even though in such a case the HSA can be taken at a later time, it would become a bigger hassle to take the HSA then than to simply take the assessments in May.

It is likely that some students will end up getting hurt by the policy. Martinez believes that students may skip the HSA with merely hopes of doing well on the AP exam. Unfortunately, the scores do not always turn out as high as students or parents might expect. According to a summary of the AP grades from May 2006, four Blazers scored below a three in the AP biology exam, 24 in the two AP Calculus exams and 23 in the US Government and Politics exam.

So if there is such a big risk, why let students take a chance? After all, it is their high school diplomas they are putting on the line. Even though they can take the HSA later if the AP results turn out unsatisfactory, students would have to study extra for the HSA instead of focusing on their current classes. If a student is confident about the AP exam, he or she will probably do well on the HSA without additional studying, which is why taking the brief two-hour assessment makes sense. Students not so sure about the AP exam should take the HSA regardless. Maryland should withdraw its decision to change the HSA policy on the grounds that it encourages students to skip the statewide assessment instead of trying to help them secure their graduations.

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