Weast and Grasmick spar over HSAs
Boy, have the words gotten angry between Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery County's school superintendent, and Nancy Grasmick, the state schools chief, over the High School Assessments.
Weast has objected before to aspects of the high-stakes tests that this year's seniors will have to pass before they can graduate in May, but this latest letter on Sept. 22 was written with unusually confrontational language. Weast wrote Grasmick saying that she ought to go easy on schools where a certain group of special education students hadn't been able to pass a new version of the High School Assessments.
The Mod-HSA, a new test started last year with the intention of simplifying the questions in the HSA without dumbing it down, was never field-tested. When it was given last spring, significant problems developed, Weast said. The failure rates were very high, a fact that MSDE has already acknowledged. He believes the department didn't give teachers enough time to prepare these special education students to take the new test. In addition, he said, they struggled because the test went on for too long. Given that, Weast argued that the state ought to make exceptions for schools that don't meet the standards for Adequate Yearly Progress this year because their special education students couldn't pass the Mod-HSAs. Weast said in his letter that there had been "significant flaws that unfairly punish our students and our schools."
I won't go into all the details outlined in the letter. Anyone with a lot of curiosity and a lot of arcane knowledge about No Child Left Behind can read the full letter here.
Grasmick's response was just as chilly. You can read the full version here. She defends her department for six pages and says: "Perhaps in the future, you will seek a more positive communication approach to resolving questions and answers."
But Grasmick has made some modifications that Weast was requesting. First, she asked for and got from the feds the ability to give schools a break for the next year if they don't meet AYP only because their special education students didn't pass the mod-HSA.
In addition, Grasmick is going to allow students who have only failed the HSA once to go ahead and start a project to try to complete the graduation requirement. The rule says you have to have failed the HSA twice to be eligible for the project, but the state says it will give some students a break because they didn't take the test until the end of their junior year. The students will still have to keep trying to pass the test. MSDE says that it would have made the changes despite complaints from Weast.
Interestingly, school board members from Montgomery County have been very skeptical of the HSAs as well. So far, the remaining superintendents in the state seem to be hanging tough and supporting going ahead with the HSA.
We wonder if the rebellion will spread elsewhere in the state.