Maryland Acts to Counter Dropping Graduation Rates

December 20, 2008 08:00 AM
by Christopher Coats
Facing an exorbitant number of high school students unable to meet the graduation requirements laid out by the state board of education, Maryland has initiated an emergency push to give students more opportunities to earn their diplomas.

Test Early, Test Often

With more than 4,000 students currently facing the possibility of not graduating, the state board passed a waiver program that would allow those students to take high school exit exams multiple times before the end of the year.

The move would also allow students to take the tests—usually reserved for after all classes had been completed—more than once, and complete a “bridge project” should they still not be able to pass the exam.

According to WJZ News in Baltimore, “The principal of a school must recommend the senior for a waiver. The superintendent must approve it.”

Currently, the state requires all students to take the Maryland High School Assessment for algebra/data analysis, biology, English and government “after the student completes the required course,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

Under the new regulation, scheduled to last only one year, students who had taken the test on numerous occasions and completed the “bridge project” would receive a waiver allowing them to graduate as long as they had made every effort to seek out help.

Proponents of the waiver insist that the change is possible by the fact that the current standards do not state that a test cannot be taken earlier in the year.

Although critics of the waiver argue that it is counterproductive to make students take the exit tests before they complete the courses on which the tests are based, supporters insist that exemption is meant to level the playing field for students faced with challenges beyond their control, and ultimately reverse decreasing national graduation rates.

“If they waited till the end of the course, theoretically the last day of the school year, they would have missed the January, April and May testing opportunities, and we don’t want to deny students an opportunity to meet the graduation requirements,” Prince George’s schools spokesman John White told The Washington Post.

Advocates of the waiver cited language challenges, health issues and a lack of access to tutors and additional help as reasons why students would qualify for the waiver.

Background: A nationwide effort

Maryland’s efforts are not unique as school boards across the country alter exit exams and requirements in the face of falling graduation rates.

Earlier this year, New Hampshire announced they would allow students to take an exit exam as early as 10th grade, allowing those planning on a vocational or community education to leave school following the tests. The move allowed those students planning on attending a traditional college or university to take another round of exit exams at the end of their senior year.

However, not all schools have moved toward making graduation more accessible. Milwaukee Public Schools moved toward not only increasing science and math requirements, but also adding community service components into the curriculum.

“We really believe it’s our responsibility to make sure all our students are prepared for post-secondary experiences,” John Thomsen, director of educational services for grades nine through 12 in the Greenfield School District told JSOnline.

Related Topic: Impact of exit exams

The Los Angeles School Board reported that their graduation rates dropped significantly
after they introduced an exit exam two years ago. According to the Los Angeles Times, the city’s schools dropped from 64 percent in 2005 to under 50 percent this year.

The drop came despite a sharp increase in enrollment in seniors across the state.

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