There's something disconcerting about those who fight to make high school diplomas worthless, particularly when they claim to have the kids' best interests at heart. The latest salvo comes from Maryland, where state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick has just been granted (by an 8 to 4 Board of Education vote) her wish to allow students who twice fail one or more of their high school subject assessments to graduate by completing "projects" instead. Grasmick says the new approach will help young people who pass their classes but can't pass the tests. The intellectual disconnect here is stunning. If a student passes his algebra class but fails to pass an external exam evaluating his prowess in algebra, what does that say about Maryland's courses? About teacher grading practices? Of course, "projects" aren't inherently evil, especially if they're intellectually demanding, explore subject matter in depth and are rigorously and even-handedly evaluated. But if you think that Maryland is going to demand excellent work from kids that it has already let off the hook, if you think those students are going to be pushed to create worthwhile "projects," and if you think state officials are going to be punctilious about the standards and rubrics by which such projects are appraised--then we've got a nice bridge across the Chesapeake that we're looking to sell you. And if you think these politically-correct policy gyrations are really being done for the sake of the long-term well-being of today's young Marylanders, you might want to let us hold onto your credit card long enough to add a tunnel under Baltimore to your total purchase.
"Md. Approves Alternative Tests for Graduation," by Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, November 1, 2007
"State alters exam policy," by Liz Bowie, Baltimore Sun, November 1, 2007