This June, nearly half of all public school students in the United States were required to pass one or more statewide exit exams in order to graduate from high school. In cases like this, where diplomas are contingent on the results of such assessments, tests are characterized as “high-stakes” for students.
In the next six months, the Maryland State Board of Education will decide whether to raise the stakes by making passing scores on the new more rigorous High School Assessments (HSAs) a condition for graduation. If the experience of other states is any indication, this decision could result in as many as 20% of high school students in the Class of 2008 being barred from graduation as a result of failing one or more of these tests. It will come as no surprise that denied students will disproportionately be disadvantaged students from Baltimore City or Prince George’s County or students who receive special education services.
The decisions around the HSA program will have irreparable consequences for Maryland’s children, yet neither the public nor educators has been privy to much of the dialogue or data surrounding such a critical move. Moreover, the environment in which these decisions will be made is very different, and more formidable, than a decade ago when the HSA program was first conceived. The Board’s charge is challenging: how will it raise standards for all students without over-penalizing those who are disadvantaged?