Mich. House Passes Bill To Revise High School Testing Program

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Responding to parent concerns, the Michigan House passed legislation last week that would significantly alter the state's high school proficiency test.

Hundreds of parents refused to let their 11th grade children take the four-part test in February, arguing that it was too time-consuming and that it unfairly labeled students who performed poorly on the test. ("Mich. Schools Warned Not To Excuse Pupils From Test," April 30, 1997.)

The eight bills that made up the reform package enjoyed bipartisan support in the Democrat-controlled House. The bills will be taken up next month by the Senate education committee.

"We believe it addresses legitimate issues in a constructive way that should make the test more meaningful," Rep. Sharon L. Gire, the Democratic chairwoman of the House education committee, said of the package.

The legislation, which Ms. Gire has worked on for more than six months, would use the test to grant state "endorsements" in math, science, social studies, and communication arts.

The endorsements--"basic," "above average," or "outstanding"--would appear on students' transcripts instead of on their diplomas.

New Ability Levels

Under the House plan, the state education department would be charged with defining the ability levels.

The current exam, which is supposed to make diplomas more meaningful to colleges and employers, grades students as "proficient" or "novice" in math, science, reading, and writing. Proficient scores appear on diplomas.

Those levels have been criticized as too vague. And the novice score, in particular, has been roundly blasted as too punitive.

"We think this [proposed] scoring will give employers a better idea of the differences between abilities," Ms. Gire said.

The plan also calls for shortening the exam, which now takes a minimum of nearly nine hours to complete, to a six-hour test. More feedback from test results would be given to schools and parents under the House proposal, as well.

Finally, the exam date would be moved from February of the junior year of high school to the first semester of the senior year. The change would allow teachers to cover more of the curriculum before students took the test.

Gov. John Engler, a Republican, worked with House leaders last week to help pass the plan. "He supports it," Mr. Engler's spokesman, John Truscott, said of the package.

Sen. Joanne G. Emmons, the Republican chairwoman of the Senate education committee, said that she may want to tinker with the plan's language on scoring. But she said the package was a good start.

"This isn't a partisan issue," she said. "We've all heard the complaints about the test."

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