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High school schedules altered for senior tests


Virginia Crespo has been teaching for 33 years. This is the first time she has had to write a 25-minute exam.

She wrote the abbreviated test because 25 minutes is all that's available in a shortened day designed to accommodate the new High School Assessments, five subject area tests mostly for freshmen and sophomores - tests that one day will determine whether students can graduate from high school.

At Broadneck High School, Crespo's Advanced Placement government students will take their senior exams starting May 21 in two parts: 25 minutes apiece (or maybe more like 20 after the teens finally settle into their assigned seats).

"I will give them some multiple-choice questions each day," she said. "You can't expect them to sit down and write an essay that means anything."

These final exams are worth 20 percent of a student's semester grade.

Last year, the Anne Arundel County school board approved a calendar designating the week of May 21 for senior exams, the last day of school for seniors, and even many graduation ceremonies. Then came the Maryland State Department of Education. A few months ago, officials there designated the same week for the first full-scale tryout of the High School Assessments.

"It just so happens these two things overlap," said Ken E. Nichols, one of the county's directors of instruction.

To accommodate the assessment exams, all county high schools will start three hours late - except for the younger students taking the assessments; they're expected in their seats as usual at 7:17 a.m. Buses, at a cost of $104,000 for the week, will make a second run into the neighborhoods to pick up the upperclassmen.

When school starts between 10:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., so will senior exams.

Most schools will run the day as they do when the opening is delayed by snow or other bad weather - no classes are canceled but all are held in abbreviated forms. Some schools will create 45-minute or hour-long chunks for senior exams. Others, like Broadneck, are asking their teachers to give the exams in two parts.

"The teachers are concerned about it," said Susie C. Jablinske, president of the teachers union. "They are concerned that it's disruptive. They are concerned they'll have to alter their senior exams.

"The problem is this is something that's mandated right from the state Department of Education. It's very frustrating for all of us."

Anne Arundel County is one of only two counties in Maryland to find itself with both sets of exams scheduled for the same week, Nichols said. Harford County schools, according to that district's Web site, will also start late (at 11 a.m.), but will have seniors come at the regular time as well in order to administer full-length exams and hold graduation rehearsals.

Brad Smith, a Broadneck senior, sees nothing wrong with two 25-minute exams. He doesn't expect his teachers to write unrealistic exams that can't be finished in the time allotted. In his Advanced Placement environmental studies course, his teacher had students write practice essays for the AP exam, given separately. Those essays will count toward the regular final, Smith said.

"They're not going to give us a 200-question Scan-tron to fill out in 25 minutes," he said.

The week of May 21 is the second-to-last week of regular classes before non-seniors have their regularly scheduled exams. With shortened classes all week, it will be difficult to get all of the required material covered, some teachers said. That should be a week where teachers are building toward the end of their coursework. Instead, it will be a week of fits and starts, they said.

"This cuts into the curriculum," said Crespo, who is deciding what won't be covered for her history students.

Nichols said teachers were given several months' notice that this would happen and should have been planning for the week all along.

"We did not spring this on them at the last moment," he said. "We gave them plenty of notice."

The calendar is drawn the same way for next school year and the very same conflicts are expected again. Jablinske said she thinks in the long term the calendar committee could consider adjusting or even doing away with the tradition that seniors get to finish the school year before their younger peers. Nichols, too, foresees something different.

"Something's got to change," he said.

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