State education officials say they are going to give some of the highest-achieving students in the state a small break by letting them substitute good scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests for high school graduation tests.
At first the new rule is likely to affect few students in the state - primarily those who take American government or biology AP or IB classes in their freshman or sophomore years in high school.
"We are trying to minimize the amount of tests kids have to take," said Gary Heath, director of testing for the Maryland State Department of Education.
Maryland is the first state in the nation to get permission from federal education officials to give credit for the AP and IB tests as part of the No Child Left Behind law, Heath said.
"We are trying to push students to a higher standard, and if a student feels they don't have to take two tests, it make be more appealing" to take high-level courses, said state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
Today's 10th-graders - the class of 2009 - are the first to be required to pass four high school assessments in English II, American government, algebra I and biology before they can receive a diploma.
The assessments are designed to be taken just after a student takes the course, rather than grouped at the end of high school.
So whether students can take advantage of the new rule will largely depend on each school system's curriculum and whether their school offers AP classes in their freshman and sophomore years.
For instance, most advanced students take algebra I in seventh or eighth grade, long before an AP exam is available.
So those pupils would likely take the high school assessment in middle school to get it over.
And many high-schoolers will take a biology class in ninth grade before taking an AP biology later in their high school career.
The desire to give students credit for AP and IB tests has arisen as more schools offer dozens of AP classes, both as a way to increase the rigor of courses and to prove to college admissions officers that their students have the ability to handle college courses.
Some students in suburban Baltimore counties take as many as 12 or 13 AP classes before they graduate. And schools are offering those courses at a younger age, sometimes as early as ninth grade.
"Overall we are encouraging more and more of our students to take rigorous AP and IB classes. We have had enormous success in AP," said Brian Edwards, a spokesman for the Montgomery schools.
For instance, 54 percent of last year's graduates in Montgomery took at least one AP test, and 44 percent scored a 3 or better on at least one of those tests, which are scored on a scale with 1 as the lowest and 5 as the highest.
"It makes all the sense in the world to reward these students and not require them to take additional tests," Jerry Weast, Montgomery's school superintendent said through a spokesman.
In Montgomery County, about 2,300 students took AP American government in their sophomore year. Most of those students took both the AP test and the state assessments at the end of last year.
Heath said the state school board has always intended to give school systems the opportunity to substitute a test other than the HSAs, as long as it was validated, reliable and comparable in rigor.