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Diploma Dilemma

Students in Maryland's class of 2009 know they'll have to pass tests to earn high school diplomas. But those current 7th graders don't know exactly which ones.

Will they need to pass all four required tests? Will they be able to earn a less prestigious diploma by passing three of them? Or will they simply need to achieve a cumulative passing score on the four exams?

The various options are being tossed around as the state board of education determines its graduation policy.

State officials want to up the ante on the state's 2-year-old high school tests. Now, graduates don't have to pass the exams, but their scores are published on their high school transcripts.

"We're at a tipping point," said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state schools superintendent. "We're going to lose our momentum ... if we don't have a deadline."

Nancy S. Grasmick

Last month, the state school board—at Ms. Grasmick's urging— proposed multiple paths to a diploma. The top-level diploma would require a student to pass exams in English, algebra, biology, and government. A secondary- level diploma would go to students who pass three tests.

Educators say that the plan needs tweaking.

Instead of requiring students to pass a test in each subject, they recommend that each student get a composite score on the exams— much as a student's verbal and mathematics SAT scores are typically combined.

"It permits the student to balance a small deficit in one area with a strength in another area," said Bonnie C. Ward, the superintendent of the 2,500- student Kent County, Md., schools and the president of the state's Eastern Shore Superintendents Association.

The Eastern Shore group has proposed using a composite score, and the plan has been endorsed by the statewide superintendents' group.

Ms. Grasmick said that she might support a composite score, but that she might want each student to achieve a sufficient score on each test to show a "level of skill in each of these content areas."

Ms. Ward said superintendents might be open to such a plan. They want to ensure, though, that the final policy is easy to understand and implement, she said.

"What we don't want," she said, "is the process to be so complicated that no one can understand it."

The state school board is scheduled to adopt a new policy in June.

—David J. Hoff

Vol. 23, Issue 20, Page 17

Published in Print: January 28, 2004, as State Journal

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