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Carroll students show progress in Md. assessment

Test-takers outperform state average

officials see room to improve

Carroll County

September 15, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Carroll County

Carroll County's high school students made across-the-board improvement on all four Maryland High School Assessment tests, with more than 70 percent of test-takers passing the English, algebra, biology and government exams.

Carroll's strongest showing was on the English test, with students posting an 18.4 percentage-point gain, bringing to 70.3 percent the number of students who passed. On the other exams, 76.7 percent passed algebra, 78.1 passed biology and 80.6 passed government, according to results released yesterday by state education officials.

"It's a double-edged sword," said Greg Bricca, research and accountability director for Carroll schools. "We can be real pleased with where we're at ... but we want 100 percent."

Although Carroll students outscored the average in Maryland - beating passing averages of 53 percent on the English exam, 58.8 percent on the algebra exam, 60.9 percent on biology and 65.9 percent on the government exam - local school officials wanted to reserve judgment about the progress until they have had a chance to more thoroughly compare their performance with other districts across the state.

While Carroll schools posted higher scores, it remains possible they lost ground in terms of the rate of progress when compared with students statewide, Bricca said.

The state Board of Education voted this summer to require students starting with the Class of 2009 - next year's ninth-graders - to pass all four Maryland High School Assessment exams in order to graduate from high school.

For the past three years, students have been required only to take - but not pass - the tests at the end of a course. But starting next year, students will also be required to pass them to graduate. Most students will take the classes in either ninth or 10th grade. Students who fail will be given up to three more times each year to retake the tests.

"We have pretty good results considering kids don't have to take [the exams] seriously yet," said Steve Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction.

Meanwhile, state education officials also released scores for Maryland School Assessment tests in reading and math for fourth, sixth and seventh grades as well as 10th-grade geometry.

Fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders took the reading and math tests for the first time last year, but their scores do not count toward accountability requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act until the 2005-2006 school year. This year's scores, however, will be used to set the starting point from which student achievement will be measured.

More than 80 percent of Carroll's fourth-, sixth-, and seventh-graders passed the reading exam. The math exam results were less consistent. While more than 81 percent of fourth-graders passed the exam, 62 percent of sixth-graders and about 65 percent of seventh-graders did.

About 62 percent of students passed the 10th-grade geometry exam, posting a slight gain over last year.

Bricca added that the fourth-grade results, while not being used to measure the system's progress this year, are consistent with earlier results for third, fifth and eighth grades this summer.

"We're pleased with fourth-grade results," he said. "They're where we expected them to be."

Another source of comfort, Bricca said, is that Carroll's results are generally 10 percentage points above state averages in all areas.

But he cautioned against being too comfortable with the results.

He said that while it's nice to be a school system with no schools in "school improvement" - a level of remediation for those that fail to meet yearly accountability standards - Carroll has work to do. He said it is important to show improvements in test scores, and also keep pace with state standards that will become progressively more rigorous each year.

He said students must continually improve, because a school risks being put into remediation if it doesn't show a steady march toward 100 percent proficiency on test scores by the 2014 deadline required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

"We can't relax and say we're where we need to be," Bricca said. "We're not where we need to be down the road."

A concern this year was how students - particularly those at Francis Scott Key High in Union Bridge - would fare on the geometry exam. Francis Scott Key met the state's achievement standards this year, Bricca said. If it hadn't, it would have been placed on a state "watch list."

School officials pointed to programs that were put in place to help students raise their scores.

"We looked at what are we hitting, what are we not," Johnson said. Students were offered extra help, such as tutoring, to improve their scores, he said.

Johnson said other changes are being considered to help students continue to meet the standards. He said the county is piloting a program this year at two high schools - Winters Mill in Westminster and Century in Sykesville - that makes geometry a two-semester course to extend the period of study and preparation.

School officials said that while the No Child Left Behind Act has forced them to evaluate curriculum and instructional methods to meet achievement standards and make changes where necessary, they see long-term benefits for students.

The legislation is "bringing education into a very personalized area," said Harry T. Fogle, assistant superintendent of school management.

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