Graduation Rate and Use of Alternative Graduation Assessments Increasing in Maryland

An October 6 Maryland State Department of Education Press Release announced that the high school graduation rate increased and the dropout rate decreased for the Class of 2010.  In order to graduate, a Maryland student must either pass the High School Assessment (HSA) tests or complete an alternative project in order to graduate from high school.

Maryland’s High School Graduation rate jumped by more than a percentage point for the Class of 2010, while the dropout rate for the senior class fell to 2.3 percent, according to data released today by the Maryland State Department of Education. The dropout rate now stands at its lowest level in 11 years. …

Nearly 60,000 Maryland students received diplomas this past spring, with nearly 85 percent of them meeting the HSA through examination. Only eight percent—5012 students—met the requirement through the alternative Bridge Plan for Academic Validation. The Bridge Plan is the project-based alternative to the HSA exams.

Only 33 students statewide failed to graduate solely because of the HSAs, the new data found.

A followup October 7 Washington Post article examined the increasing use of alternative assessments in lieu of passing the HSAs. 

Maryland’s high school testing requirements were designed to increase rigor and the value of the state’s diplomas, but only a tiny fraction of seniors this year failed to graduate because of their exam results, and an increasing number of students are using alternative assessments because they have difficulty passing the regular tests, according to data released Wednesday by the State Department of Education. …

This year, 0.06 percent of seniors failed to receive their diplomas because of the tests and 8.6 percent of the senior class graduated only after completing the alternative projects, an increase of 2.3 percentage points from 2009. And some students received waivers exempting them from the requirements altogether. …

Virginia started phasing out its alternative assessments this year after criticism that schools were using them to avoid accountability.

Maryland officials said that is not an issue in their schools.

“This is a minimal requirement that we think our students will have to rise above,” said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. About half of the states require exit tests for graduation; the District does not.

But some education advocates question whether the assessments are a good use of time.

“We continue to have low standards for them, and then when they pass, we say, ‘Great,’ ” said Jessica Shiller, education policy director at Advocates for Children and Youth, a nonprofit group that focuses on Maryland education.

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