Never mind Grasmick

just focus on the test

April 08, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Dear parents or guardians of the students in 11 Baltimore schools now facing heavy-handed treatment from the woman you've cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick:

First things first: I hope you'll forgive the sarcasm dripping from that opening remark. But I'm still steamed at Baltimore's political leaders -- and I use that word leaders guardedly -- who've accused Grasmick of having a political motive for seizing four city high schools and seven middle schools with failing test scores.

You wouldn't know that Grasmick didn't act alone, would you? What's been lost in the accusations and lip-pouting demonstrated by Baltimore political leaders -- some of them are exempt from this allegation, and you'll hear more about them in a minute -- is that the move had to get the approval of the State Board of Education. And David Tufaro, a Republican who sits on the board, took the time to remind me that it is "a bipartisan board."

Democrats and Republicans voted for the takeover. But that's not what you've heard. You've heard that Grasmick is evil. You've heard that Grasmick is heavy-handed. You've probably heard that Grasmick is mean to her mommy, mistreats toddlers and nails poor little kittens to trees near her home. For the past week, all you've heard from Baltimore pols is "Grasmick, Grasmick, Grasmick."

It should be clear to you by now that the state legislators who "represent" -- another word I'm using guardedly -- you in Annapolis are totally useless on this matter. Don't look for much help from your City Council representatives either, unless their names happen to be Kenneth Harris, Keiffer Mitchell or Nick D'Adamo. They support the state takeover.

Here's something else you should know. Whether your children pass the High School Assessments (the HSAs) in English, biology, government and algebra/data analysis is in your hands.

With that in mind, I thought I'd give you some information about those tests. This past Thursday, Number One gave me a copy of a Maryland State Department of Education brochure entitled "Maryland High School Assessments & Your Child." Number One is what I call my oldest grandchild, who'll be attending City College in the fall.

So my first piece of advice is to get this brochure from your child. If Number One got it, all students probably did. And I'm sure all students don't necessarily give their parents or guardians every handout they receive from school. If your child is one of those at Patterson, Douglass, Southwestern or Northwestern high schools who failed any of the assessment tests -- and most did -- then the brochure will tell you what you need to do to correct that problem.

I hope you find this information useful:

The passing score for the algebra/data analysis test is 412. For biology, it's 400; for government, it's 394; and for English, it's 396. The maximum score a student can get on the test is 650; the lowest is 240.

Your child or children have to pass all four tests to graduate or earn a minimum score on each test and a combined score of 1602 on all the tests. The minimum scores for algebra, biology, government and English are, respectively, 402, 391, 387 and 386.

So let's say your child isn't good at algebra. (That's pretty likely; over 78 percent of Baltimore students in all high schools didn't pass it in 2005. But we're progressing, city leaders tell us: The failure rate was a mere 77.5 percent in 2003 and a staggeringly low 69.5 percent in 2004.) Let's also say he or she got only the minimum scores in algebra, biology and government for a combined score on those tests of 1180.

Now let's say your kid is dynamite at English. With a score of 500 on the English HSA, your child passes the assessments with a combined score of 1680, 78 points above the minimum.

The folks down at North Avenue, where city school headquarters are located, will send you the results of your child's scores nine weeks after the tests. The MSDE brochure advises you to contact your child's teachers if he or she doesn't pass.

"They [the teachers] will explain how your child can receive extra help in that subject," the brochure says.

That help may include tutoring. Bill Reinhard, an MSDE spokesman, said the No Child Left Behind Act does provide for qualified students to get free tutoring, but there are guidelines.

"Tutoring depends on income and whether the student attends a Title I school," Reinhard said. Title I schools are those with a minimum 40 percent enrollment of students who come from low-income families, or where 40 percent of the children in the attendance area are from low-income families.

If your child is eligible for the free tutoring, don't pass on it. There are tests online in algebra and government that your child can take to see how much help he or she needs. (The brochure says the biology test will be online sometime this fall, and the English test will be online after that.)

Don't fret if you don't have a computer to give you access to those online tests. Your child's school should have one. Drop in and have them print the tests and answer sheets for you.

If the folks at your child's schools give you any trouble, dime them out to the folks at North Avenue. I'm sure they'd have no hesitation applying a heavy hand of their own.

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