State high schools chalk up solid gains on assessment tests

Students in 20 districts improve on all 4 exams

`Taking the tests more seriously'

September 15, 2004|By Mike Bowler and Liz Bowie | Mike Bowler and Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Scores on Maryland's high school end-of-course tests increased significantly this year, pleasing officials who had predicted a spike in performance once the exams were linked to graduation.

Students in 20 of the state's 24 districts improved scores on all four of the tests in English, biology, government and algebra. Nevertheless, four in 10 Maryland students failed the exams - which will be required for graduation with the class of 2009.

Fifty-three percent of the state's high school students passed the English test, a surge of 13 percentage points over 2003. Statewide scores improved by five or six percentage points on the other three exams.

"I'm obviously elated," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, "and I think we'll see another spike next year," when the tests will count for freshmen.

But, she added: "If 60 percent are passing, 40 percent are failing, and we can't be proud of that statistic." The superintendent said some districts are lagging in the teaching of ninth-grade algebra.

In June, the State Board of Education made passing the tests a requirement for graduation, effective with this year's eighth-graders. The 2004 tests were given before that action, and most of those who took the tests won't have to pass to earn a diploma. "But the word is out," said Gary Heath, the state testing chief. "What I hear in the schools is that everyone is taking the tests more seriously."

Polytechnic Institute, one of Baltimore's selective citywide high schools, had the highest percentage of students in Maryland passing the four tests. For instance, 99.6 percent of its students passed the government exam; 94 percent passed biology.

Walt Whitman High in Montgomery, Eastern Technology High in Baltimore County, City College in Baltimore and River Hill High in Howard County were not far behind.

Students have at least four chances a year to retake the High School Assessments.

The state also released first-year Maryland School Assessment scores for grades four, six and seven, and 10th grade geometry, completing the seven-grade array of testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Among metropolitan area districts, Howard County students had the highest scores on the MSA and Baltimore had the lowest, although a few of the semiautonomous "new schools" in the city, such as the KIPP Ujima Village and Midtown academies and The ConneXions, scored well on the tests.

Schools are required to break down scores for such subgroups as African-Americans, students in special education and those eligible for free lunches. Results released yesterday showed wide achievement discrepancies in all three categories. Thirty-five percent of blacks passed the high school English test, for example, while 65 percent of whites did so.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools failing to make adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years must offer students the option of transferring to higher-performing public schools. A list of schools failing to make "AYP" was released in the spring, but yesterday the state modified the list based on attendance data and graduation rates.

Grasmick said 284 schools are on the failing list this year, down from 473 in 2003.

Anne Arundel students made great gains on the high school algebra and biology assessments. But on the Maryland School Assessment, black students continue to lag behind their white and Asian classmates.

Anne Arundel's fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders also beat the state's results on the MSA's reading and math sections. But nearly twice the percentage of white and Asian sixth- and seventh-graders scored at advanced or proficient levels, compared with about 35 percent of African-Americans.

Baltimore County's scores exceeded the state average in every area tested in elementary and middle schools. For example, 81 percent of county fourth-graders passed the reading test, compared with 72 percent of fourth-graders statewide. In addition, elementary- and middle-school scores showed a narrowing of the achievement gap between white and minority pupils.

But on the high school tests, the county's scores were slightly below Maryland's average across the board. Officials attributed that in part to a greater number of students being tested, particularly in algebra.

Carroll Manor Elementary in Baldwin was one of four schools statewide and the only one in the region to achieve a 100 percent pass rate on both the fourth-grade reading and math tests.

Howard County students showed solid gains in every category of the high school tests, with more than 70 percent passing all four.

About 74 percent of students passed the English exam, 74 percent passed the algebra test, 83 percent passed the government exam and about 79 percent passed the biology test.

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