The rollout of a high school graduation requirement tied to a demanding new science test could be delayed for at least two more years, following a preliminary vote of the Maryland State School Board on Tuesday.
The board voted to change a regulation that would have made passing the Next Generation Science Assessment a requirement to obtain a diploma beginning in 2020.
The new test, which replaces a decade-old biology test, was “field tested” last school year. The test was supposed to count as a graduation requirement for students who begin taking the test in January 2020. But Maryland Department of Education staff recommended continuing to have students take the test but delay making passing it a requirement for two years.
The new standards encompass physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences and engineering.
Maryland adopted the new science standards for grades three through eight and high school in 2013.
There’s growing concern on the part of educators and legislators that the latest version of tests that high schoolers will be expected to pass are more difficult than the old Maryland State Assessments given in four subjects — algebra 1, English 10, government and biology — beginning in 2008. Today, the state is giving the PARCC tests, which roughly 40 percent of students statewide are passing.
If the tests were requisites for graduation, large numbers of high school students would be expected to fail and undertake an alternative — a bridge project in multiple subjects — in order to graduate. In 2015, before the new tests were put in place, 37 percent of city high school students failed one or more high school assessments and had to do a bridge project. With new, harder tests, that percentage would be likely to grow across the state.
As the new tests have been phased in, the state required students to take them but not pass them in order to graduate from high school. A bill before the legislature, supported by local school superintendents, would give students two more years before the high school assessments are a graduation requirement.
To complicate matters, the state has decided to get rid of the PARCC tests — developed by a consortium of states — after this year and create its own, although they are not expected to be easier.
Bruce Lesh, who works in the division of instruction at the state Education Department, said 40 states have adopted the new science standards, which require students to learn a set of scientific concepts in several fields of study. Those concepts will be embedded in the courses on biology, physics and chemistry. Because school systems teach science classes in different sequences, deciding when students should take the new test will be difficult, he said.
A student who takes the test after three years of science might not remember concepts learned years ago. Of the 40 states that have gone to the new generation science standards, only eight state require students to pass a test for graduation. In some states, students must take the test and the score is averaged into each student’s grade for the class.
“The current school year is the first year we are administering a final assessment [in science],” said Lesh. In August, the state would analyze the data from the testing and in October, the state board would decide what a passing score should be on the science test. “The districts would see data on performance a month before the students have to take the test,” he said, explaining why there is a need for a delay.