Report Cards

Students improve in last practice round of the HSA

But most still fall short in passing exams soon needed for graduation

Baltimore City

Maryland School Assessment

September 15, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Baltimore students made significant gains in the final practice round of the High School Assessment, but most still are not passing the exams that will be linked to graduation starting next school year.

There were several bright spots for the city in the torrent of testing data released yesterday by the Maryland State Department of Education.

Polytechnic Institute outperformed every other Maryland high school in three of four subjects.

In fourth grade, more than 60 percent of the city's pupils scored at proficient or advanced levels on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) in reading.

It was the first time that pupils in grades four, six and seven took the MSA, which is mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Seven elementary schools also came off the state's watch list after improving their rates of pupil attendance in the last school year, said schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland. They were Charles Carroll Barrister, Federal Hill, Furley, George G. Kelson, Matthew A. Henson, North Bend and Westside elementaries.

Of the 186 schools, about half remain on the state list for schools in need of improvement. Twenty-five need to improve in one or two of about three dozen performance measures.

Copeland credited recently implemented high school reforms for the gains on the High School Assessment (HSA), including the breaking down of large schools and emphasis on more rigorous curriculum and better teacher and principal training.

"We can see that those efforts are paying off," Copeland said.

But the schools chief said she was concerned about the percentage of students who failed the high school exams. "We know we need to have every student college-ready," she said.

Although the high school exit exam results increased sharply, the scores continued to lag behind the rest of the state. For example, more than 33 percent of test-takers passed the English exam, up from about 18 percent two years ago. Statewide, 53 percent of students passed the English test.

The HSA test scores also indicated no change in the persistent disparity in the performance of students of different racial groups, referred to as the achievement gap. And the test scores of special education students - who also will be required to pass the tests to graduate - were lower than those of their peers two years ago.

Copeland said she has not analyzed the achievement-gap data.

"It will definitely play a role in the decisions we make," she said.

Officials will delve into the data to see what instructional approaches have been successful.

For instance, sixth- and seventh-graders attending combined elementary-middle schools performed better than counterparts in schools with grades six through eight.

Change structure

To Copeland, that was one more indication that the city system should be moving away from the traditional middle school structure.

"Look at the success that we've had in years past ... in [prekindergarten through grade] eight schools," she said. "This year continues to affirm that trend."

Schools with nontraditional structures also performed in the top tier.

Two of the city's three "initiative" middle schools, started two years ago by nonprofit groups, were among the top scoring middle schools in the city, although they accept children from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

At KIPP Ujima Village Academy, 90 percent of the sixth-graders passed the math test - the highest score in the city. Although the school's reading score was lower, it was more than 20 points above the city average and beat the state average.

Sixth-graders excel

At the Crossroads School, sixth-graders were among the top schools in the city in reading and scored well ahead of the city average in math.

Mark Conrad, the school's director, said he believes the high achievement has to do with the small size of the school and the flexibility and autonomy it has as a charterlike school.

ConneXions, the third school, also did better than the city average.

Sun staff writer Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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