Thursday, Oct. 4, 2007

Grasmick, it’s time to depart

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Since the inception of the High School Assessments (HSAs), Maryland State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick has implemented one ill-conceived revision after another. While Grasmick has plunged forward full tilt, the stakeholders (parents, advocates, public officials) are pleading to be part of the process.

On Aug. 27, Grasmick dropped a bomb with her ‘‘Bridge Plan for Academic Validation.” Students who failed one or more HSAs would be permitted to complete a senior project instead. This permitted Grasmick to take no personal responsibility for failing masses of children, and the local school districts are forced to pay the bill.

On Sept. 13, Grasmick dropped another bomb. In The Washington Post, she stroked the backs of the local superintendents with a promise to eliminate the Brief Constructed Responses (BCR) and Extended Constructed Responses (ECR) from the HSA. BCRs and ECRs were stated to be a major reason for the long wait for HSA results and gave the schools insufficient time to help students. Teachers were also complaining that they were back to teaching to the test, the HSA.

At the Maryland State Board of Education meeting earlier this year, Grasmick clearly stated that HSA as a graduation requirement for the class of 2009 was not chiseled in stone, except that it is. In addition, she has failed to produce the Modified HSA for students with disabilities as promised to the Maryland General Assembly and the public. During the joint committee hearings on HSAs on Feb. 9, Grasmick presented her case for making the HSAs a graduation requirement while she asked for $100 million to renew the HSA contract for another five years. She received the money and with this came the implicit approval to impose the HSAs’ cruel graduation edict.

As mandated by Goals 2000, Improving America’s School and the No Child Left Behind Act, she is required to hold hearings, collect signatures, and publicly announce changes to the education system. There is no mandate to listen, respond or follow up. Without the HSA hearings, the U.S. Department of Education will not approve grants and⁄or award contracts. It’s all about money.

At the Sept. 10 HSA hearing held at Flowers High School, Grasmick and nine state school board members sat with 200-plus interested parents and educators to listen to 38 testimonies. Each person was given three minutes. Many assailed the BCRs and ECRs. Any which assailed Grasmick or her processes were cut short. By the by, Grasmick failed to announce her agreement with local school superintendents to remove BCRs and ECRs.

I wonder when this latest revision will actually be implemented (and how many public school children will be adversely affected in the mean time)? It is likely that BCRs and ECRs will be on the HSAs until 2009, for the 2008 tests have already been printed and are being shipped.

At a time when the governor is requesting a tax increase and is proposing to cut services and state employee salaries, Grasmick plans to subsidize the economy of another state by $100 million. The product she is buying is known only to herself – not the taxpayers, the voters, the governor or the state Legislature. One can only wonder how many in MSDE know.

Governor, use your power of the pen. Enact an executive order terminating the Grasmick contract for incompetence. If you must keep the HSA, then open the process, bring home the bucks and make use of the universities in Maryland to write and administer the test. Convert it from a tool for maintaining personal power into a tool for developing Maryland’s public school system.

Nancy Grasmick, just leave.

Naznin Adams, executive director, Parent Advocacy Network for Differently-Abled (PANDA), Fort Washington; Zalee Harris, founder and president, Maryland Education Doctors, Temple Hills; and Patricia Brady-Dennis, assistant director of PANDA and member of Education Doctors, Chesapeake Beach.