HSA graduation requirements for Special Education and ESOL students expected to be delayed

March 15, 2007, midnight | By Poorva Singal | 14 years, 7 months ago

Postponement may be of little help to Blair's population

Maryland School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick suggested a two year delay for the High School Assessment (HSA) requirements for Special Education students and English language learners at a Board of Education meeting March 1. She plans to formalize the delay in August after reviewing data from the next administration of the tests in May.

If the postponement is finalized, students receiving special services like Special Education will not need to pass the HSAs for graduation until 2011. The extra time will allow teachers to learn more techniques to better prepare Special Education and Limited English proficiency students so they may meet the standards set by the assessments, according to according to Maryland's Department of Education spokesman William Reinhard.

Because of Blair's large population of Special Education and English language learners, Blair may have a problem meeting the current requirements that all students beginning with the class of 2009 must pass all four HSAs to earn their diplomas. Of the 730 Blazers that took the English II HSA last year, 49 were Special Education students and 38 were students with limited English proficiency. Their passing rates were 16.3 percent and 7.9 percent respectively, according to data from the 2006 Maryland Report Card.

Some are skeptical, however, that the extra time will make much difference. Senior Abhishek Sinha, a former ESOL student, thinks testing ESOL students in English the same way as regular students will never make sense and that extra time will not help much in increasing ESOL passing rates. "How can they ever think of giving both [ESOL and regular students] the same kind of tests, and upon that putting [the tests] into graduation [requirements for ESOL]?" he wondered.

ESOL Resource Teacher Joseph Bellino also believes that current testing is unfair to ESOL students and that alternative assessments designed for English language learners should be used instead. If non-native English speakers are not doing as well as native speakers, he said, there are two options: one is to say that "they just don't meet standards and therefore they don't graduate," and the other to say "we are going to set up an alternative way to demonstrate knowledge."

Though Special Education and ESOL students may not have to worry about passing HSAs to graduate for a little longer, they will still be required to take the tests in hopes of helping Blair meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). "I [will] still be trying to prepare kids for the HSA in Special [Education] because they are going to count in meeting our AYP," said Special Education teacher Abigail Holmes.

The school has barely made AYP for the limited English proficient subgroup in the past two years and did not make it for the Special Education subgroup last year by just half of a student according to Bellino. If any subgroup does not make AYP, the entire school fails to achieve AYP.

Blair entered the School Improvement list for not meeting AYP in 2003 and 2004. By the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must identify schools not meeting AYP for two consecutive years which must then enter a School Improvement status in order to improve student performance. To exit, a school has to meet AYP for two years, according to the School Improvement in Maryland web site. Thus if Blair had made AYP last year, it would have exited because the school had met the standards in 2005.

Bellino suggests that if ESOL students do need to take the same English HSA as regular students, they might need to be offered eight period schedules with two classes of ESOL English and go to school full time in the summer.

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