Tests show many in Md. would not earn diploma

Biology, algebra scores fall

government improves

August 24, 2005|By Liz F. Kay and Sara Neufeld | Liz F. Kay and Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Maryland high schoolers lost ground in biology and algebra, and barely improved in government, in the latest batch of standardized test scores released yesterday.

Nearly half of all students would be out of luck if a passing score was required for a diploma right now. That requirement kicks in with this fall's freshmen, and state education officials predict a big jump in performance as a result.

Fifty-eight percent of students tested in biology passed the exam, down from 61 percent last year. In algebra, 54 percent passed, down from 59 percent last year. And in government, 66 percent passed, up a half a percentage point from last year.

FOR THE RECORD - Tables containing Maryland High School Assessment scores in yesterday's editions inadvertently listed two new Baltimore City schools in the wrong category. The Baltimore Academy for College and Career Exploration and Baltimore Talent Development High School are both high schools. The information used to categorize the schools came from the Maryland State Department of Education's official Web site listings.
The Sun regrets the error.
An article Wednesday about test scores in Baltimore omitted the names of the three city high schools added to the most severe category on a state watch list for troubled schools. The schools, which were listed in an accompanying chart, are Thurgood Marshall High, Fairmount-Harford High and New High School at #40.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Do we need to do a lot better? Absolutely," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

The class of 2009 will have to pass tests in English, algebra, biology and government to graduate. Older students are required to take those tests, but not to pass them.

"I think that our students are sophisticated. The first question they ask is, `Does this count?'" Grasmick said.

In addition, the statewide pass rate on a geometry exam required under federal testing mandates increased slightly this year, from 48 percent to 51 percent, while the number of tests taken increased from 61,600 to 68,400, according to the state.

The geometry scores, along with the English scores to be released this fall, will be the major factor in determining whether a high school made "adequate yearly progress" as required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Some school districts, such as Anne Arundel, are considering appealing the geometry scores of high schools where special education students did not meet standards on the test.

More than two-thirds of Anne Arundel County students passed the high school tests, surpassing the statewide average. However, scores on the algebra and biology tests dipped slightly compared with last year, while scores in government improved.

Baltimore County's scores slipped in all three subject areas of the state high school assessments, including in biology, where 52.9 percent of students passed, down 5.6 percentage points from last year.

Carroll County students' overall passing rates on the algebra and biology tests dropped slightly, while the passing rate on the government exam was identical to last year's. About 75 percent of students passed the algebra and biology exams, while 80.6 percent passed the government test.

The percentage of Harford County students passing dropped between about 5 percentage points and 10 percentage points for each test.

"Our marching orders will be to find out why the grades dropped," said Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for Harford County public schools.

More than three-quarters of Howard County students passed the three High School Assessment tests, although scores decreased slightly on the biology and government tests from last year.

State officials also said yesterday that 77 high schools were placed on a state watch list because students there did not reach state standards on the geometry exam. More schools may be added to the list when scores from a similar English exam are released.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires that students be tested at least once in high school in English and math. Previously, Maryland had met that requirement by giving students a different English and geometry test.

This year, Maryland merged the two English tests into one. Because state officials have not yet set a passing score, the results of that test will not be released until this fall.

Next year, the algebra test administered as a high school graduation requirement will also count as the math test under No Child Left Behind, taking geometry's place as the federal requirement.

State officials said the goal was to cut the amount of time spent testing high school students - the moves will reduce the number of state tests from six to four - and to hold high school students personally accountable for tests that have high stakes for schools.

In Massachusetts, the pass rates on tests jumped about 30 percentage points when high school tests began to count for graduation, said deputy state Superintendent Ronald Peiffer. Maryland saw a comparable jump in the 1980s when a previous battery of tests - the Maryland Functional Tests - was employed and made a requirement for graduation.

Maryland students take the new graduation tests at the end of Algebra 1, English 2, biology and government courses. Around the state, school systems are weighing the best time to offer those courses to maximize students' chances of passing the test.

Their dilemma: Offer the classes too early, and students may not be prepared for them. Offer them too late and students may not have enough opportunities to retake the test before the end of senior year.

State officials cautioned against attaching too much importance to comparing this year's scores with last year's. Since students must take the tests only once in high school, the number of students tested varies from year to year.

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