By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service
BALTIMORE - At the Maryland State Board of Education meeting Wednesday, Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, recited a litany of statistics to illustrate his point that the nation's and Maryland's students are not being prepared to be competitive in the global economy.
"Our performance in science and math is particularly perilous and the scores we have as a nation are not something we should particularly be proud of," he said. "We tend to compare ourselves with California. We need to compare ourselves with Bangladesh. If we can't compete globally, we can't compete at all."
Augustine's comments apparently helped inspire the state board of education to express continued support for high school assessment tests and the measures of achievement they are intended to bring.
But board members also conceded that the state may have to make changes in the standardized tests for students with learning disabilities or those who are learning English as their second language.
High school assessments are tests that measure school and student progress in algebra and data analysis, biology, government and English. Students starting with the class of 2009 have to pass the tests in order to graduate from high school.
The overall passing rate for all students who took the Algebra test in 2006 was 66.6 percent. But the real concern is that student's with special education needs are passing at a lower rate.
Only 27.2 percent of students with special disabilities passed the algebra test and 38.1 percent of limited English proficient students passed the Algebra test in 2006. These percentages include students who do not have to pass the test to graduate.
The board will decide in August 2007 whether to make changes in the high school assessment tests for these groups of students. August is when they receive another year's worth of student performance statistics.
Although these student groups are lagging, the board plans to stick to the assessments for the rest of the student population.
"When I sat on the local board, I was not a supporter," said board Vice President Dunbar Brooks. "But when some people asked me why would I as an African American support a test where African American children would fail, my retort was why would I expect any less of my children in Baltimore?"
Even the student member of the board supported the tests.
"The students are overwhelmingly stressed about this, but as long as they study they will pass," said Brian Frazee, a high school senior in Charles County. "We need to make our high school diplomas mean more."
Support for the assessment tests is not unanimous, however.
Jerome Dancis, a retired math professor from the University of Maryland, College Park, said educators focus mainly on teaching students how to pass the test rather than full understand the subject.
Jim May, a parent of a high school student in Calvert County Public Schools also criticized the high school assessments during the public comment period.
He said that his son who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was depressed and stressed about passing the tests.
"The realization that parents would have to increase medication so their son could pass a test was unfathomable," he said.