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Grasmick to scrap idea of awarding 2nd-tier diplomas


State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is scrapping the idea of a second-tier "local" diploma for students who can't pass all of Maryland's new high school exit tests.

Instead, Grasmick said yesterday, she will ask the state school board next week to approve a plan that would allow students to graduate by achieving a combined, or composite, score on the tests in algebra, biology, English and government.

Students could still fail one or two of the tests but earn a diploma by exceeding the combined pass score, she said. However, they would have to achieve a minimum score, as yet to be set, on each of the exams.

Approval by the board would send the proposal to a four-month period of public discussion, with a final vote scheduled for June. Passing would be required of the Class of 2009, this year's seventh-graders.

Grasmick's original plan for local diplomas for students who passed only three of the four tests met with opposition from most of the state's education and student advocacy groups. Many said a second-tier diploma would inevitably be regarded as a second-class diploma.

"It was dead on arrival," said Carl W. Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, of Grasmick's original idea. "Everyone wants a single state diploma."

The superintendent said yesterday that she had never been wedded to the two-tier plan. "I put it forward as a catalyst, to get discussion going, and I certainly succeeded."

If the single-diploma plan is approved, special-education students would have to get a combined passing score on the Maryland High School Assessment to earn the diploma. In the earlier proposal, they were required to take the exams but excused from having to pass them.

Ronald A. Peiffer, deputy state superintendent, said advocates for the disabled "appear to be split" on whether the tests should count for special education students. In unofficial testing last year, 7.4 percent of disabled students passed the English test; 43 percent of regular education students passed it. About a fifth of special education students passed the algebra, government and biology tests.

Officials believe that if Maryland follows the trend set in Massachusetts and other states, scores will spike as soon as students realize the tests will count toward graduation.

Grasmick said the high school testing program would be "completely re-examined" in 2008.

The tests are generally taken at the end of the ninth grade, but students who fail have several chances to pass before they graduate.

About half of the states have high school exit tests, and Peiffer said 30 will have such exams in place by the time Maryland's program becomes official.

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