Officials call for higher pass rate

But some say Md.'s requirements are too stringent


Harford school officials had mixed reactions to results released this week for a statewide high school English test that will soon be required for graduation, as the county finished in the upper echelon in Maryland despite more than a third of its students failing.

The county finished seventh in the state, with 64 percent of students passing, and its schools were spread fairly evenly throughout the range of scores. Bel Air High School led the way, with 78 percent of its students passing the test, and Fallston, C. Milton Wright and North Harford high schools all finished in the top 50.

"All of that is encouraging and you like being in the upper echelon, but these are high school assessment tests that all schools must pass to graduate," said schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison. "You're happy your kids are doing relatively well and comparatively well, but the goal is for all to pass."

Only half of the students at Aberdeen High School, which is on a state watch list, had a passing score. Fewer than half of the students at Joppatowne and Edgewood high schools passed.

State education officials told The Sun on Thursday that the results for the test, administered in the spring, were disappointing but not alarming. They said more students should pass when the score counts toward their diploma.

Statewide, more than 40 percent of Maryland's 10th-graders failed the test. There was a wide disparity between the highest-performing schools, which were largely in wealthy areas, and the lowest. The lowest-performing schools would have to demonstrate tremendous improvement to prevent a large number of students from failing.

School board member Thomas L. Fidler Jr. said he believes the state's expectations are far too aggressive and show a disconnect between what the state expects and what is being taught in county schools.

"To have those kinds of numbers, something's out of kilter," he said.

Next school year, 10th-graders must meet new standards in English, biology, government and algebra.

Students can graduate if their combined score from all four tests is at least 1,602 - a figure that represents the passing score for each test added together, which is less stringent than the state school board's original requirement that students pass all four tests.

Harford students had the third-highest passing percentage in the Baltimore region, which had four school systems exceed the state average of 56 percent. Harford finished behind Howard (77 percent) and Carroll (71 percent) counties and ahead of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

The numbers released also indicated the percentage of students whose scores were high enough to be considered "advanced," offering an interesting contrast for some schools.

Harford Technical, for example, saw 65 percent of its students pass the test. But just 17 percent of those scores were considered advanced, the second-lowest percentage statewide for a school that had 60 percent or more of its students pass the test.

Only Chesapeake Youth Academy in Cambridge, Md., which had only six students take the test, was lower.

In contrast, 59 percent of Havre de Grace High's students passed, while 19 percent were considered advanced.

In addition to Aberdeen, the Alternative Center in Edgewood remains on the state's watch list.

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