Report Card

Strong gains made in every category of HSA testing

More than 70% pass English, government, algebra, biology exams

Howard County

September 15, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Howard County high school students showed solid gains in every category of the Maryland High School Assessment tests, with more than 70 percent passing the English, algebra, biology and government exams.

Howard's scores surpassed the state average and most of its counterparts' in the Baltimore region, according to results released yesterday by state education officials. While black teens still lag behind their white classmates, they made significant strides in each test.

Other student population groups also showed improvement on the tests, including Hispanics and those receiving free and reduced-price meals, a measure school systems use to identify students from low-income families.

"We're glad that the pass rates have increased over the previous years," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "But we still have concerns about subgroups in some of these tests. We're making progress; we just need to make more."

Yesterday, the State Department of Education also released scores for Maryland School Assessment tests in reading and math for fourth, sixth and seventh grades and 10th-grade geometry. Reading and math tests were given to pupils in fourth, sixth and seventh grades for the first time last year, and their scores do not count toward accountability requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act until the 2005-2006 school year.

More than 85 percent passed the reading test at each grade level. Almost all pupils at Centennial Lane Elementary School - 99.1 percent - had proficient or advanced reading skills.

Nearly 85 percent of fourth-grade pupils passed the math exam, while more than 70 percent of sixth- and seventh-graders surpassed basic math skills.

The number of 10th-graders who scored above basic levels on the geometry test jumped 9 percentage points to 73.4 percent compared with last year.

Starting with next year's freshmen Class of 2009, all high school students must pass the four High School Assessment exams to graduate. Under the requirement, approved by the State Board of Education this summer, students who don't pass the tests can retake the exams at least three more times.

In Howard, 83 percent of high school students passed the government exam; about 79 percent passed the biology test; and about 74 percent passed the algebra and English exams.

On the English test, the number of black students who passed jumped by nearly 16 points to 51.6 percent.

Every group improved its performance on the government test, particularly black and Hispanic students and those receiving free and reduced-price meals.

On the biology test, Hispanic students receiving free and reduced-price meals showed the most significant gains, with nearly 69 percent and 47 percent of them passing, respectively.

School officials attributed those gains to local assessments, or tests that are given in the four subject areas and others on a quarterly basis at the high schools. Because the tests are aligned with the curriculum, teachers use them to guide their instruction, meaning they can determine a student's academic needs during the school year, said Leslie Wilson, director of student assessment and program evaluation.

"They focused on teaching the curriculum," Wilson said. "Last year, local assessments correlated very highly with how students performed on the HSA. We know that there is a strong relationship ... which for us is very positive. That means we don't have to wait until the child fails the state assessment to find out the weaknesses."

The school system seeks to have 95 percent of its test-takers pass the first time. While mostly the gifted and talented students met that goal, school officials are trying to provide instruction and help upfront instead of waiting until a student fails these tests, said Robert Glascock, assistant superintendent of instruction and curriculum.

"It's about maintaining the standards and changing the instructional approach," he said.

At the high school level, Howard High made the most significant improvement, jumping 27.4 points to 77.7 percent of students passing the English test, and about 19 points to 62.9 percent passing the algebra exam.

For the first time last year, Howard High offered an after-school tutorial and intervention program for students who want extra help, said Clarissa Evans, director of secondary curricular programs. Most other high schools have similar after-school programs.

On the low end were Wilde Lake, 38.8 percent passing the algebra exam; Hammond, 43.9 percent passing the algebra test; and Long Reach, 54.7 percent passing the English test.

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