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Exam changes to make getting diploma harder Educators developing tests to assess core of knowledge, skills; Use by 2002 possible; Stress is on individual student 'performance' and 'assessment'


The state is developing a new series of tests for high school students -- tests they would have to pass to get diplomas. So are the local schools. And yes, they are related to each other and to the Carroll County schools outchool tests, which could be required of graduates as early as 2002.

The tests would involve a core of information and skills students should have by the time they complete high school and would be more difficult than the current high school exams, which many pass in middle school.

The catchwords of the trend are "performance" and "assessments." Students have to perform -- show that they learned something. The tests have to assess performance, and FTC hold school staff more accountable for student performance.

"Many people say assessment drives instruction -- what gets measured gets taught," said Judith Backes, supervisor of testing for Carroll County schools.

Dr. Backes was one of several representatives from the county schools who attended a meeting Wednesday of the Maryland State Board of Education to discuss the high school tests being developed. "The main reason is to look at whether students are learning," Dr. Backes said. "It's really a change from 'what are you teaching?' [to] 'what have your students learned?' "

At the board meeting, experts from around the country gave advice. Educators from New York and North Carolina, which have similar tests, cautioned the board to involve teachers from the start so that the tests accurately reflect what goes on in classes.

Dr. Backes said the state has done a good job of including teachers and local school officials in creating he tests.

Students in grades three, five and eight already take such tests, devised in the early 1990s. The new tests, called the high-school assessments, would have a different purpose. The elementary and eighth-grade tests are given to measure how well the school in general is teaching.

The high school tests would measure each student's performance and could determine whether the student graduates.

The general plan is to have one or more tests in English, math, science and social studies, which would show how much students had learned and whether they are able to apply that knowledge.

Students who failed the tests would not get diplomas until they retook and passed them or passed state-approved local testing.

Local systems would develop their own tests, probably one for the end of each course, that would reflect how much was learned.

"All of the state assessments are grounded in the state outcomes," Dr. Backes said.

The philosophy behind outcomes-based education, which Carroll schools have been using for two years, is to set clearly defined goals for what students should know at the end of a unit, course or school career.

Educators want tests to match those outcomes so students and teachers know ahead of time what is expected, state officials said.

The new tests will be harder than the Maryland Functional Tests, which measure minimum proficiency and which most students pass by ninth grade. The new test could be designed so that average students can pass them and outstanding students also can demonstrate their mastery.

Colleges and scholarship organizations could use scores to determine whether students are eligible for programs, in much the way colleges use Scholastic Assessment Test scores.

Representatives from the College Board, which administers the SAT, and American College Testing, which administers a similar test, are on the expert panel.

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