For the second time in less than a year, Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County has received poor marks from education experts who visited the campus to evaluate student achievement and quality of instruction.
Teachers at Woodlawn often lacked creativity, rarely challenged students' thinking and sometimes used homework as "filler" in class, according to the report.
The conclusion: Students may be ill-prepared for high school assessment exams that will be required for graduation beginning in 2005.
Reacting to the latest findings, Board of Education members said yesterday that enough studies have been done. They say they want to see positive changes - even if that means spending more money or making staff changes.
"We need to act aggressively to improve the educational opportunities of students who attend Woodlawn," said board member Sanford V. Teplitzky. "We need to take immediate steps to improve the delivery of instruction."
Superintendent Joe A. Hairston ordered the audit in the summer after another team of experts put together by former Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione found that Woodlawn's hallways were chaotic and its teaching staff, undertrained and overwhelmed.
Woodlawn - with an enrollment of 1,700 students - has outperformed other county high schools in some academic areas. But members of the second audit team concluded that students might be ill-prepared to pass the state's high school assessment exams.
"The passing rates on countywide final examinations modeled after the high school assessments indicate major concerns for the school in years ahead," the audit stated.
In the last school year, 360 of 507 Woodlawn students failed final exams in American government. The year before, 374 of 552 students failed end-of-semester exams in biology. In 1998, 149 of 459 students failed final exams in English.
During several visits to the campus in September, auditors noted that teachers "in almost all classes" showed little innovation or creativity and that students in "many classes" were allowed to "socialize freely," which kept them from completing class work.
"Students were not asked to engage in any type of analytical processing or application of knowledge," the audit stated. "Little was expected regarding homework. Many teachers seemed to have given up assigning homework and used it as filler in class."
Hairston is supportive of school administrators.
In a prepared statement issued yesterday, he noted that Woodlawn Principal Lynette Woodley, who is in her first full year as head of the school, has increased observation of teachers by administrators and is giving more feedback to teachers. She has also established a teaching model for all staff members and has attempted to reduce classroom talking.
"The instructional audit points to issues that the school administration and area superintendent are addressing to ensure Woodlawn's students will benefit from the same level of quality expected of all students," Hairston said.
A member of the audit team, which included more than 50 educators from across the state, reported that the school seemed to be on the mend and that the teaching staff, and especially Woodley, should be proud of the progress they have made.
Hairston's decision to introduce the Woodlawn audit at the board meeting surprised top administrators since it was not listed on the board agenda. One parent said yesterday that she'd been asking for the audit - which was completed Oct. 16 - for weeks but had not received a copy.
Board members were sure the topic would come up again.
"Now that the report has been released, I assume we will have some questions, and if we have questions, then the proper place to address them is in a public session," said Teplitzky.
Board members could also debate the future of Woodlawn Middle, which had disappointing results on the most recent round of Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests. The school recorded the lowest composite score of all comprehensive middle schools in Baltimore County.
"We'll be asking if the current staff at those schools have the skill sets and abilities needed to make the necessary changes," said Teplitzky, referring to the middle and high schools.